A SAD SIGHT

After the red dust storm and the bushfire season which filled our suburban and city skies with smoke haze, I lost about 1/4-1/3 of my Balcony Garden.

Early March I noticed a distinct browning of the Japanese Maple leaves on the footpath, (or road), side of the young tree in front of my apartment balcony.

IN THIS SHOT LOOKING OVER THE TOP OF THE TREE, YOU CAN SEE THE HEALTHY LEAVES IN THE FOREGROUND AND THE DYING LEAVES IN THE CENTRE TOP OF THE FRAME. THIS IS NOT WHAT THE PREVIOUS COUPLE OF YEARS LOOKED LIKE IN AUTUMN.

Autumn colour in the golden hour of the day looks a bit like the images below made in Autumn 2019.

My side of the tree was young(ish) and relatively healthy-looking.

The last 2 Wednesdays, when I went downstairs to wait outside the apartment building main door for my supermarket delivery, I took the opportunity to photograph the tree from the side.

Maybe the image below with the cooler white balance setting of the camera shows the changes that have occurred.

This is not the usual Autumn change of colour.

This is defintely one whole trunk/limb/branches that are dying (or dead) – more clearly seen in the images below when the sunlight changed.

Since we’ve had plenty of rain in the last 3 months, I can’t help but wonder if the apartment building construction site across the road has blown toxic raw materials or chemicals across to my side?  Is this perhaps too wild a notion?

We do have extremely strong winds blowing down my steep little road at the best of times, and at least twice, my herb and veggie garden has been completely covered in white dust since construction began in January 2019.

I won’t say how bad the dust indoors on my furniture was  😀

At the best of times I have to dust my furniture every couple of days and I’ve been through the occasional coughing fit so I know there is dust in the air since the construction began.

My first-floor apartment, on this very steep hillside, is in direct line of the building site.

Hmmmmm……..?

To be honest, I am not happy about all this (including the building of a tall apartment block towering over me and blocking the late afternoon light and most of my usual sunset colour, either).  I’ve lost my privacy too.

 I rent this apartment and don’t own it, so my options are always open (but so are my negative possibilities, as I’d had to move apartments 3 times due to the landlords selling my apartment space and the new owner wanting to move in).  In that scenario, the new landlord has to give you 60 days notice to vacate I seem to remember.

The old images (below) were pre-gouging out the cliff face and constructing a multi-storey apartment building.   I could go out onto my balcony to watch the sunset each evening OR, even, sit at my desk and watch it – 6th image in the series below.  If you’ve followed my nature blog for some time you’ll know how much I (loved) this sight.

The photos below are a good sampling of what I used to see most nights.  It was gorgeous.

I also wonder about the lack of bird species in the area in the last 4-6 months too?  I’ve mentioned that in an older post.   I initially put that down to the extreme summer heat, smoke haze in the air, or even just a change in the whole environment and bird migration?   Bird Migration doesn’t make sense as the first 3 years in this location had plenty of bird species.

That’s one of the reasons I loved living in this new housing estate.  It’s the Birds, the enormous green parkland up and down the river, as well as nature reserve directly behind my building.

Last year’s acquisition of a net to deter the bugs and birds from my new seedlings.

Melbourne and most of its suburbs normally have excellent air quality (unless there’s a bushfire close to the city in mid-summer).

This past Summer, at the height of the horrific bushfires, there were days when we had the worst air quality in the world.   Even beating highly populated areas in India and China.

Now we’re back to superb air quality in the last couple of months (improved even further by the lockdown and fewer cars on the roads).

The image below was made from the main road running along the river valley ridge and shows the city of Melbourne about 10 kilometers away – made a couple of weeks ago.

# A PHOTO A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY – Day 26

From the archives

3rd August 2011

After spending a year or more photographing flowers in 2010/2011, I’d made a few rather feeble attempts at photographing birds, but flowers remained on the top of my subject list, living 5 minutes away from the Royal Botanic Gardens as I did at that time.

One afternoon, around 4.45pm I walked through the south-eastern gate, which was my regular exit point for the slow walk home, when I spied a flash of colour on the enormous Aloe plants next to the walking path.

The collection of colourful feathers settled on the plant and I later identified it as an Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris).  It didn’t stay long and flew away soon after I photographed it.   I only got one shot.

EASTERN SPINEBILL

I thought I had photographed a very rare bird and was thrilled.  I also thought it was a good shot, although today, I realise I didn’t get the honeyeater’s eye in focus, only the rear end,

Secondly, I eventually discovered it was relatively common and not rare at all.

I believe this was the day I fell in love with bird photography.   As the days went by, I kept a lookout for any of the avian species and regarded it as a challenge to get a bird in focus with my then, only telephoto lens, the 18-200mm.   I quickly learned to change the focus point while the camera was up against my eye.    I attempted to get the bird’s eye in sharp focus having read that this was the best way to achieve a good bird image.

It was about 2 years later that I got some better shots and I’ve loved the challenge of capturing birds in focus ever since.   I say challenge because half the time the sun was in my eyes when I looked upwards into the tree foliage (and not down on the flowers on the ground)………….. and more importantly most small birds don’t stand still for my slow reaction times.

I still do Bird Photography with very mixed results.   Mainly because some days I’m too fatigued to hold the camera perfectly still.   Holding the camera very still is one of the key ways of achieving sharply focused images.

It was sometime later when I started going to Melbourne Zoo and trying to get one focus point on the camera through tiny 1/2″ cage wire that I improved with holding the camera very still.

I also realize that my hundreds of photos taken on my 1976,78/79 overseas travels with relatively blurred results were probably because I didn’t hold my camera still enough.

CAUGHT YOU!

Or maybe not.  The lounge windows are too dirty and the long telephoto lens won’t autofocus (below).

Out of 9 shots, the one below, when the male Superb Fairy-wren flew up to the balcony fence rail, was the best I could do today.   Shame the rain-spattered sliding door wasn’t open, but there is a distinct chill in the late morning Autumn air.

No point washing the exterior windows today as rain is expected according to the forecast.

Not that the forecast is ever correct, but I don’t leave the sliding door open if rain is forecast.   There is no apartment or balcony above mine to shelter my balcony or lounge windows and the rain comes in the door at an angle if I leave the door open more than 1/2″.

These Fairy-wrens move so fast, you’d think I’d be an expert by now, but some days I can pick the heavy long 150-500mm lens & DSLR up and autofocus very quickly AND other days the weight is hard to handle initially and I wobble.   Even worse if the windows are dirty.

I can’t tell you how many empty shots are lying on my ‘cutting-room floor.’

I heard the Wren’s faint tinkling call as soon as I put my morning coffee on the desk, so got the two cameras out of their soft pouches, extended the telephoto lens to roughly the right distance to the birdbath and took the lens caps off straight away.   I set the smaller camera roughly to the distance I wanted also.

The Wrens often land on the Rocket herb planters first, hence taking the Sony a6000 with its shorter kit lens 55-210m out (as well as the Canon EOS 500D & Sigma 150-500mm lens).

If a bird is in the Rocket and I slide the Sony ‘mirrorless’ camera back off the desk surface towards my chest very slowly and then put it up to my eye even more slowly, I can usually capture the bird about 3 feet away from where I’m sitting (see below). No bird in this shot, but you can see how close a bird might be.

For those new to my nature blog, now you can see why I spend the morning with one eye on my computer screen and the other eye on the outdoor balcony potted plants.

You just never ever know when you’re going to get lucky.   A few examples – good, or not-so-good below.

So, you see, it’s midday on Saturday.   I’m still in my PJs.   I haven’t finished my breakfast and I’ve spent the morning watching the birds (the same as I did before the Coronavirus lockdown).

My life has actually changed very little.

One difference is that this year I haven’t seen any European Goldfinches, Willie Wagtails, Thrushes, Magpie Larks and New Holland Honeyeaters on my balcony fence (or the road sign) as I usually do.

Most of the images (below) are old ones made from my desk chair, although the first shot below was made standing next to my balcony fence and peering down into the depths of the Japanese Maple.

GREY FANTAIL
female SUPERB FAIRY-WREN
HOUSE SPARROW
This New Holland Honeyeater chick allowed me to get to about a foot away to get a close-up and seemed not in the least bit frightened of this strange human monster with the black box.
This adult New Holland Honeyeater flew in the open doorway and landed on the windowsill.   I dread to think how I would have captured it if it hadn’t flown back outdoors on its own.
A second honeyeater chick landed on the Eucalyptus sapling while I was standing at the waist-high balcony fence.
“Wipe your beak, young lady, you’ve got seed stuck to your mouth” Young female HOUSE SPARROW.
female SUPERB FAIRY-WREN in my Blueberry bush.
Always good to see the wrens having fun in the rain. Not a particularly clear shot as the windows were rain-spattered on this day.
A mother House Sparrow feeds her rather large chick in the Japanese Maple. This shot is through my lounge window glass and then the thick balcony fence glass. I increased the contrast and sharpened it a bit in post-processing so the view was sharper.
This was a rather poor shot of a Blackbird in my garden. This is the only time I think I’ve ever seen a blackbird actually sit on a plastic pot.
I put birdseed out to attract this many sparrows. As you can see its Winter as the Maple tree has lost all its leaves.

Thank goodness I have a Room With a View 🙂

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

If you learn to enjoy waiting, you don’t have to wait to enjoy.

Kazuaki Tanahashi

It’s a bit hard to see, but there are some tiny toadstools in the above image.   Look harder.   They’re on the mid-left-hand side of the frame.

I was standing outside my apartment building front entrance waiting for my supermarket delivery yesterday – the drivers are no longer allowed into apartment buildings or houses to deliver your goods due to the ‘coronavirus lockdown’ and social distancing – when I spied some tiny toadstools peeping out from under some tanbark mulch on a chest-high garden bed.

After missing out on some shots of a tiny field mouse dashing across my pathway and a male Superb Fairy-wren on the road near my feet last week (while waiting for my supermarket delivery), I flung my Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ camera over my shoulder yesterday in the hope of spotting something to photograph.   I only have the 55-210mm kit lens for this camera since I ‘killed’ the 18-200mm lens in a fall 3 months after I bought the camera in 2015, so I can’t get too close to subjects with this camera now.

I would have done better to have my Canon DSLR and 17-55mm lens in hindsight.

I leant over the cement wall, but it was a while before I could work out a way to photograph these tiny toadstools.  I kept stepping backwards inch by inch trying to get them in focus.

I amused myself for quite some time examining my immediate surroundings as I waited for the delivery van.   I don’t know how anyone can get bored while waiting for something, or someone, outdoors.   There’s always something to see.   I didn’t see a field mouse yesterday like the previous week when I didn’t have a camera over my shoulder,  but I did spend some time watching some insects,   They were similar to a Harlequin bug, slowly crawling over the brick wall.   I wish I knew what kind of insect they were.

Even more importantly, I wish I still had a dedicated Macro lens.

 

FEELING A LITTLE BLUE?

AN AUTUMN WALK TO THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

I often say I lived next to The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne for over 25 years, but that’s not quite true.

I lived 2 streets away for 15 years, 1 side street away for 4 years and another street away for 3 years and so on.  Several times I had to move as the Landlords sold the apartments I rented and the new owner wanted to move in him/herself, so I had to find another rental property.

Usually, I found one very close.

Back in those days when I could walk more freely outdoors (pre hip pain), I timed it and it took exactly 5 minutes to walk from my apartment building front door to the south-east entrance of the RBG (and 12-15 minutes to walk to my office if I walked along the main road and not through the RBG).

That’s if I didn’t stop to take photos along the way.

…….I worked opposite the RBG for 16 1/2 years, so in some ways, the Royal Botanic Gardens was my home-away-from-home.

This is how I got there in Autumn…..and this is my favourite shot (below) out of about 10 I took that day.  I left the apartment building front door, walked to the rear of the building where the car park was located, down a short cobbled laneway (unseeen exit next to those rubbish bins), turned left in the laneway below and up a short slope.  The scene below is looking behind me.  The laneway goes right down a steep hill to the Yarra River (8-10 mins walk), the main river running along the southern edge of the city centre.These bluestone cobbled lanes are where the carriages and horses would have clip-clopped through after the establishment of Melbourne in 1835.   I lived in a very old part of Melbourne for most of my adult life.

I used to peer at the cobblestones in the hope of seeing some worn carriage/cart tracks as I saw in  Rome (in 1976 on a 9-week camping trip through central Europe).   I have a rather faded photo of some chariot, or cart grooves, in a cobbled laneway, but nobody knows (but me) exactly what the subject of the rather mundane image is supposed to be of.

Unfortunately, I never saw any worn cobblestones like I saw in Rome, but it didn’t stop me from looking  😀

Garages & back entrances to residential homes were in this laneway (below).

Often with lovely trailing creepers over their walls. Spectacular colour in Autumn that’s for sure.

Then turn right down another cobbled laneway and out into the first street.

Remember I lived 2 streets away but always took the short cut through the back lanes.

Then turn right and then a sharp left and immediately right into the actual street leading to the RBG.  There was an enormous house with a high concrete wall covered in Autumn colour on that corner and I never could resist a few photos of the creeper on the wall.

I could easily ‘waste’ 20 minutes photographing the foliage on this wall.

…..or in the street next to the RBG where there was a lovely line of trees with their cloaks of Autumn colour.

Then a short sandy path to the south-east entrance to the Gardens leading right into what was about the highest point in the 55-hectare site.

The are many hills, winding paths, formal flower beds as well as Native Gardens, Grass beds, and small old cottages/residences (acting at offices) where the original gardeners would have lived around 1846 when the Royal Botanic Gardens were first formed
.

There was also The Herbarium where I saw many exhibitions of Botanical Art.  I attended a lecture at The Herbarium one night, but with my short-term memory issues can’t for the life of me remember what it was about 😀  Being an amateur water-colour painter meant having a keen interest in some of our superb Botanical Artists, some of whom are well-known around the world.

Jenny Phillips comes to mind as once of our best.  Since my tertiary education was in Fashion and Textile Design as well as Graphic Art, somewhere in there is an artist in current guise as an amateur Photographer (now in retirement).

Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, I had ideas of doing a Botanical Art course but never did (probably because all my spare money was spent on medical bills back in those days and Botanical Art course fees for the term were not cheap).

Melbourne has 3 Botanical Gardens under one main administration, as well as The Fitzroy (including The Conservatory), The Treasury, Flagstaff Gardens and various other parks and green spaces on the rim of the CBD (Central Business District).

More Autumn colour to come – in between A Photo a Day Keeps the Doctor Away – sharing one photo each day from my archives – during the Coronavirus lock-down.

Hopefully, I can keep up the pace, but I’m already getting behind with blog reading, and online time is limited these days.

Now you can see how close my desk is to my garden.

 

# A PHOTO A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY – Day 15

From the archives (well, recent archives)

5th January 2020This post actually belongs to yesterday, but with Quote of the Week & Once Upon Time posts I didn’t have time to look through the archives much further back.

I woke up this Easter Friday to the Sound of Silence.

Complete and utter silence.

Even the bird sounds were absent.

The wind was silent, (well, until I opened the windows and sliding door 40 minutes later and the whispering wind wound its way through my tiny apartment).

It was the most beautiful ‘sound’ in the world.

It was magical.

I lay in bed thinking about getting up and checked my watch on my bedside table. 9.07am.   Regardless of what time I go to bed, I nearly always wake up between 9.05am and 9.12am.  I then spend about 20-30 minutes doing my spine and core strengthening exercises laying on the mattress to cushion the pain.

I count and hold each repetition for the count of 10 and slowly wind my way up to 70 repetitions.   It’s almost like a mantra which stills my mind and forces my brain to empty of all those little worries & pleasures that wriggle through from the previous day.   The counting exercises my brain, as much as the core muscles holding my lumbar spine, where I have severe disc disease (from my teenage years which was never diagnosed or treated).   Two surgeries helped the pain for a year or two, but I am very stiff in the mornings these days.   There is still nerve compression and constant pain, despite morning and evening prescription analgesics.   Every now and then a surge of pain pierces from the advanced osteoarthritis and torn muscles in my right hip (surgery for a total hip replacement in February 2019 had to be cancelled due to pre-existing conditions & inability to manage post surgery).

This morning the sound of silence pervades even the pain.

It was almost a little eerie and unworldly.   Despite the relative quiet in my urban area, the workmen across the road have been steadily working since the lockdown first started.   Now they’ve finished the new apartment building’s facade facing my apartment balcony, they are working on the side, or back, of the building.  Sometimes it IS a little quieter than it has been for the past 18months.   I relish that quieter time like a starved bear in the wilderness encountering its first kill (after the winter hibernation).  

I crave the silence from the modern world and welcome the sounds of nature on my doorstep.

Having made breakfast and my first espresso black coffee of the morning, I sit down at my desk and turned the computer on to read the overnight emails and blog notifications.

Then the faint hum of an aeroplane in the far distance invades and recedes.   Last night the TV news revealed Virgin Airlines have cancelled all interstate flights except for one daily between  Sydney and Melbourne and Qantas Airlines have come to an arrangement with the Government to fly to 3 destinations to pick up stranded Australians on holiday.   Peru, Argentina and South Africa will be the first flights, but many Australians are begging for rescue from other parts of the world.   My best friends were in New Zealand hiking and are now home and finished their 14 days self-isolation.   So they’re safe.

Initially, when I first got up, I couldn’t even hear any birds.  But I took my cameras out of their soft overnight sleeping bags and took the lens caps off ready for the possibility of some bird photography.

The House Sparrows and Superb Fairy-wrens usually start my day with a chorus of sweet songs, especially the Fairy-wrens.   The Wren’s faint twitter, or tinkle, is unmistakable.

The House Sparrows less so.

Occasionally a Spotted Turtle-dove throws in a faint coo-cooing sound, but rarely visible to me (sitting at my desk in front of the floor-to-ceiling lounge window)s.   Then there’s the Australian Magpie’s chorus.  This past Spring and Summer I didn’t see any European Goldfinches or New Holland Honeyeaters in my immediate location or balcony garden.

I missed them.

Then the faint sound of children laughing reminds me I live in suburbia.   The deep voice of a man overrides the young voices, then the sound of a car winding its way up my steep short road occurs again.

The neighbourhood wakes up as I read the morning’s weather forecast for my western suburb.   I live about 10 kilometres from Melbourne’s city centre and not much further from the countryside.   But with no car, it’s taxis or several lots of public transport to get around these days. Actually, I haven’t been out for over 3 weeks except for a trip to the local pharmacy to pick up my prescription medications.   I walked there and back as I wasn’t sure of the safety of a taxi’s interior.  Walking is not fun these days with this relatively new hip pain.

I live sort of halfway between the city and the country, but with no housing on 3 sides of my building, more like the country in some ways.

It is the start of the Christian Easter (and what used to be the first term school holidays, which started early this year).

My gaze is then brought back to today as the tiny light starts to flash on my spare hard drive reminding me that the black case has started it’s automatic back-up.

Another car sound pervades my silence and I realize I am living on Planet Earth and the world is stuck in a cycle of never-ending lockdowns in some 177 countries around the world just like my own.

Planet Earth has got a wake-up call.   The Alarm Clock has been loud and insistent and nobody has been able to turn it off.  Don’t they hear it ring?  Don’t they decipher its meaning?   Is mankind deaf or just being stubbornly obtuse?

Will mankind learn the lessons of 2020 I wonder?    Will the canals of Venice, Italy, remain clear so you can see the fish?   Will the skies over Delhi, India,  remain bright blue and clear for the first time in decades?

I think not, but at least it is a memory for those country’s inhabitants to cling to in the future.

I type some more of this post as a flock of screeching sounds flies over my apartment block which I’m not familiar with, then the sounds of a couple more children and their Father(?) echoes back and forth along the steep hillside.

Time to read some more emails.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME…….

Once upon a time, there were lots of people in Melbourne, Australia.

While we’re hidden away in our homes at the moment, one day, we’ll all return to the great outdoors. but folks, you can start planning your next holiday now.   Something fun to do in the current lockdown.

Ask Mr or Mrs Google.   I know they’ll help you out.

Melbourne is known as the ‘Garden Capital’ of Australia due to its many parks and gardens.

They’re amazing.   For over 35 years, not matter which street I’ve lived in or job I’ve been working at, I’ve been lucky enough to live next to a green space – South, North-east OR now, in the north-west of Melbourne.

We are lucky enough to have some of the best of everything.   We’re a multicultural city with an extraordinary mix of people from all over the world.

The Thai Food & Culture Festival might be cancelled this time, this year, as its usually on around Easter, but next year………..

With over 140 cultures and some 2000 indoor/outdoor festivals in any one year, there is (literally) always something to see, so it’s no wonder we’ve been voted the most liveable city in the world on/off for several years.

The Festival of the Coloured People in Federation Square was a first for me……on the 30th November 2013.   I have no idea if this was a once-off or an annual event, but I enjoyed the colour, crowds and dancing all the same in 2013..

The variety of food and restaurants is never-ending.

But this might be more your style if you want a relaxing, quiet day in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

PUNTING AROUND THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS IN MELBOURNE.

This is just a small sample of what makes us a great city and fun to visit.   You just have to remember to bring clothes for all seasons as, sometimes, we have 5 seasons in the one day (not 4, definitely 5).

Even in winter, it’s fun to walk along the beach – Sandringham Beach (below) is one of the bayside suburbs easy to visit via public transport.

Or Port Melbourne Beach, just a short tram (or light rail) ride from the city centre to the west in mid-Summer.

Melbourne Zoo for the young (and young at heart) is a must as the wide-open (sometimes walk-through) exhibits make this main site with its temperate rainforest landscaping a pleasant day out (there are 3 zoos in and around Melbourne).

Melbourne Zoo in North Melbourne is only a tram ride away from the city centre and lovely and cool on a hot summer’s day.   I had membership from 2012 – 2015 and visited just over 100 times through the seasons.   On a hot summer’s day when the humidy and heat was a little overwhelming for me (I’m very fair), I’d visit 3 times a week just to walk through the shady paths.   I learned more about photography and how to hold the DSLR camera still over this 3-year period than in any other year.

St Kilda pier and esplanade can be enjoyable even in the Winter (below).

or a train (or 2 bus trip) down to Brighton Beach with its iconic colourful bathing boxes……..

is a great day out.

So plan your next holiday (to Melbourne, Australia) while you’re stuck indoors.

Yes, one day we’ll all be back and you can visit (maybe) next year.

Just remember the rain/sun proof hat & sun-block, folding umbrella and well-worn in walking shoes.

# A PHOTO A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY – Day 13

From the archives

8th April 2011

PURPLE FOUNTAIN GRASS (Pennisetum advena Rubrum) in the golden hour – Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

Canon EOS 500D   (2009 model)

Canon lens ?? doesn’t say on the exif data,  but was probably Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS   (by the way ‘IS’ stands for image stabilising – all my lenses are IS ).

ISO 100

f/5.6

1/10s

I remember the exact time and place where I took the photo above.  Purple Fountain Grass normally looks mainly purple as in the example below.

It’s my favourite grass.

Some more images below at various times of the day.