For parrot-lovers, visiting Australia is always a treat! We recently visited Sydney for the first time and were delighted to see wild sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) filling the skies with chatter and colour. It was quite something to see these beautiful birds outside of captivity.
My Aunty Helen was somewhat perplexed by our interest in what are commonly-seen birds to Sydneysiders, but she was very obliging in taking us to likely bird-watching sites around Mosman. I was particularly keen to see cockatoos.
Having been involved in tracking the distribution of kākā around Wellington, I've followed the "Cockatoo Wingtag" program with interest (also see their Facebook page) - a joint venture between the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum. They too are interested in the distribution and behaviour of parrots in an urban setting and also rely on public reports to help track the birds. Unlike kākā, who just have coloured leg-bands, cockatoo have cattle-tags attached to their wings with large numbers written on them. This makes it much easier for the public to identify them as individuals without having to decipher leg-band colour combinations.
There are only around 100 birds in the Wingtag study, so we were not expecting to come across any, but to our delight, we spied not just one, but two Wingtag birds: #035 "Shakespeare" and #011 "Watermelon", both in Clifton Gardens in Mosman. (And yes, I had to just about leap out of a moving car to get the first sighting!)
As an aside, I do wonder if the yellow tags make the cockatoo more or less sexy to one another? Presumably the yellow tags were chosen to match their colouring?
Some cockatoo like Shakespeare are now also sporting solar-powered GPS units. Cockatoo are about twice the size of kākā so can carry the units more easily. When this was tried with kākā, the researchers were at the limit of what a bird could be expected to carry, plus the duller Wellington skies were not as conducive to solar-powered devices (battery-packs were more successful). Not to mention, it was incredibly difficult to build the units strong enough to withstand a kākā's powerful chomping beak. I hope they have more success than we did.
Back home, I've been working on some compositions, including this one of Helen enjoying the Sunday papers, with some additional "embellishments" that for me capture what was a lovely long weekend "across the ditch".
Linton also sneaked this shot of this "bird watching bird" scene - don't be surprised to see this charming kookaburra in a future composition!
Working from home, I often go for days without leaving the house. Surrounded by the familiar can sometimes seem like a block to creativity but if you can get past that, the familiar can lead to creative and more deeply meaningful compositions. The image above was composited with photos all taken within a few feet of my front door. The ones in the gallery below, all from a short wander around the garden.
Prints are available on request.
"Pushing up daisies" was accepted in the Open division at the 2016 PSNZ Central Regional Salon, hosted by the Kapiti Camera Club.
All images by Judi Lapsley Miller
For those people who have only known me as an adult, my forays into the creative world may appear to be a new craze, but for those who knew me as a kid, they'll remember that I loved both art and science in equal measure. And often the two worlds would combine, like when I made a space rocket out of my Snow White talcum powder bottle and toothpaste caps, or when I illustrated a book on the planets (including Pluto of course!). I belonged to the local astronomy club when I was only 7 and I was selected as one of the top art students to go on a school trip to see the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection at 11. I'd spend hours colouring and drawing - especially butterflies. All that ended when I was in my teens due to an illness - I was no longer able to hold a pen long enough to write, let alone draw. So art went by the wayside and I pursued maths and science instead. [...insert a 30 year gap...]
Coming back to art as an adult has had its challenges, and like many, I worry that I don't have a "style" and that I'm scattered all over the place. I was reassured today that perhaps there was a vestige of innate personal style that I was drawing from. I was tidying my home office - which serves a dual purpose as an acoustics laboratory and an art studio - when I found this treasure. It's a bookmark I made my Nana over 40 years years ago - featuring a space parrot and a butterfly!
One thing I've learned in the "Awake" photo artistry course is the importance of warming-up by doing what Sebastian calls "Finger Exercises". The idea is take a few minutes, grab a couple of images and some textures, and knock something together. It's a great way to get into the flow, and most of the time the results are rubbish, but sometimes something good comes out and suddenly the whole morning has disappeared. This piece is not my normal style, but was engaging to work on. I hope that we never reach the day where all we have are photo albums with memories of kākākpō. Fortunately the Kākāpō Recovery Team is doing all that is humanly possible to ensure their survival and are well worth your support, but it is an uphill battle.
Kākāpō and other photos by Linton Miller and myself, kākāpō skeleton from the NY Public Library digital archives. Additional content via "Awake".
We've been avidly watching Marc Levoy's introductory course on digital photography, recently provided online for free by Google. For people like Linton and me who are entering the creative world of photography with scientific backgrounds, finding out more about the physics of optics and the maths behind Photoshop, makes it more approachable. I'm guessing we're in a minority! Last night's episode was especially in our wheelhouse as Mark touched on the psychophysics of vision, or how the human sensory systems gathers and interprets information in its environment, and how this impacts on things like minimum resolution for displays. Like all things involving the human factor, the physics is the easy part! And even if your eyes glaze over at some of the tricky bits, there's more than enough things of interest to keep most photographers going with the course.
We're also enjoying the assignments. The first one is to deliberate take some "bad" photos, where "bad" involves breaking the rules and circumventing your camera's default behaviour (e.g., blurred, poorly exposed, poorly composed, out of focus, or wrong white balance). The aim is to, of course, get an artistic shot by breaking the rules - a most satisfying start to what I assumed was going to be a "thou shalt" approach to photography.
My go-to site for bird information is no longer the definitive field guide by Heather & Robertson, but instead NZ Birds Online. Essentially a wikipedia for New Zealand's Birds, it gives authoritative information curated by Te Papa's ornithologist, Colin Miskelly, supported by a wealth of crowd-sourced photographs from keen birders and wildlife photographers (like myself!). One of its strengths is the ability to quickly add and modify entries as new information comes to hand, such as the recent sightings of new vagrant birds to NZ like the red-footed booby.
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Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
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