Before and after editing a difficult photo of a gorgeous ruru.
Taken through a tiny sightline in the foliage at ground level this was the best I could manage given the conditions - yes some laundry is now needed!
Sony A1+100-400 G-master zoom: 348mm, 1/80s, f/5.6, ISO 6400, -1EV uncropped
Even with the best gear, it's HARD to get a great bird photo in the forest. The light is usually low and can also be dappled with harsh highlights and dark shadows. Recently, Zealandia EcoSanctuary asked me for my best tips for photographing in these circumstances. If you've not been to Zealandia, it's a deep valley running roughly north-south so there is little-to-no early and late low-angled daylight and there is a lot of scrubby bush that gives dappled light. There are, however, many rare and endangered birds that we're all keen to photograph!
A lot of folk turn to flash photography to get enough light. I'm anti-flash for most bird photography. It's not good for the birds, especially those with sensitive eyesight, and it usually looks unnatural anyway. Instead of flash photography, there are a variety of things you can try. Some are free and some cost money. Some are practical and some are technical. My favourite advice is always to focus first on the free and practical things. Only once you've exhausted those options should you consider opening your wallet.
Move your feet (AKA Sneaker-Zoom)
Free and practical
Move your feet and try for a different angle. I can spend as much effort looking at the background as I do the subject to see where the highlights and shadows are falling (not to mention distracting leaves and twigs). Do consider getting down and dirty - I find it better to sit on my bum in the dirt and save my knees (and weatherproof pants are the best things since sliced bread!).
Choose your day
Free and practical
You're unlikely to see me at Zealandia on a bright sunny day! Increase your chances of success by visiting on overcast days and in the early morning or late afternoon when the light can be softer (and the birds are often more active). Some of my best photos were taken on days with soft misty rain.
It may take repeated visits to your favourite location to learn what times of day and season work best, as the sun's angles change throughout both the day and over the year.
Expose for the bird
Free and technical
Dappled light can confuse your camera's auto-exposure settings, causing an under-exposed silhouetted bird or over-exposed blown-out highlights. The answer is to expose for the bird rather than the background (spot-metering). You can more easily compensate for an incorrectly exposed background in post-processing, but it is much harder to compensate for a poorly exposed bird.
There are hundreds if not thousands of tutorials already out there on how to do this, and probably for your specific camera too, so I suggest googling the specifics.
You can also use your exposure compensation dial to tweak what your camera is trying to do automatically. Or take the plunge and learn how to set your exposure manually. With a manual exposure, you can set and forget and focus on the composition - it's quite liberating once you get the hang of it.
Don't consider buying better gear until you've mastered the basics of the gear you have.
Increase the light sensitivity (ISO)...
Free and technical
Increase the ISO setting in your camera so that the sensor is more sensitive in the low-light conditions. Like all things to do with photography, this comes with a trade-off. The image will be noisier/grainier. But this is always better than having a photo with motion blur (unless that's what you're going for).
High ISO close-up of a kākā's eye, before and after de-noising with ON1 NoNoise AI.
...and use denoising software -
Costs $ and (only slighty) technical
I personally hate the grainy look, but many use it to great artistic effect. I use denoising software to improve high-ISO images. Denoising has become so good in recent years, it feels like magic. Noise is removed without sacrificing too much detail. Choose from ON1 NoNoise AI, Topaz DeNoise AI, and DxO for top-of-the-line noise reduction or use the inbuilt denoising in Lightroom or Photoshop. My current go-to is ON1. Use the slider on the photo above to see a before and after using ON1 (ISO 6400, heavy crop). Worth every cent!
use Post-Processing editing techniques
Free/Costs $ and can be technical
Photoshop, Lightroom and free alternatives like Gimp gives a world of post-processing options to edit your images. As an example, the ruru at the top of this story was first de-noised and then quickly edited in Lightroom for some basic adjustments and to emphasize the eyes. I then took it over into Photoshop to fill in the overblown highlights using a mix of masking, healing, clone-stamping, and brush work. Once you have these skills in your arsenal, these sorts of edits can be done within minutes and can rescue many flawed photos. Again, there are thousands of tutorials out there on the internet on how to do all these things. I highly recommend Julienne Kost's tutorials from Adobe for Photoshop and Lightroom editing - she's amazing and many of her tutorials are free.
Get the gear to do the job
Costs $$$ and practical
There's a reason serious bird photographers carry around gear the size of a small child that looks like it could find life on Pluto. It does the job. Those huge lenses with wide apertures let in lots of light, allowing shooting in otherwise untenable situations. But gear like that comes at a huge cost - both financially and also physically. If you're in a position to buy it and can carry it (or you have a handy sherpa!), you won't regret it. But do try all the other suggestions first so if and when you do get the good gear you can get the most out of it.
And Last of All, always consider the wildlife first
When you're fussing around with your camera and angles, don't forget to mind the wildlife and their home! Always be prepared to abandon the shot if it means protecting the critter.
Birds and other critters show stress in different ways to humans and what might seem innocuous to us, may not be to them. For instance, they might freeze rather than fly, their heart-rates sky-rocketing and cortisol levels shooting up, waiting for you to bugger off. But to you it might look like they're sitting there unbothered. There can be telltale signs though, depending on the species, so do your homework too. Be especially careful when photographing a nesting bird - if they get too stressed they may abandon the nest.
And it's worth repeating, when it comes to flash photography, I never use it with birds. Even if it was OK to use, the resulting images rarely look natural with harsh shadows and light coming from the wrong direction, so it's just not worth it. Some cameras and mobile phones are set to automatically flash when the light is low, but this feature can and should be turned off. It's far better to choose when flash is needed and turn it on specifically.
What have you found increases your odds of a great bird photo?
It's that time of the year when the Zealandia valley fills with the sounds of "Mum, mum, mum, mum" as newly fledged kākā chicks are weaned and taught how to fend for themselves. On a late afternoon walk yesterday, I heard those unmistakable cries near the Top Dam kākā feeders, and after a bit of hunting found the culprit high up a tree being tended by her Mum. It was none other than RB-M - the very first chick we banded this season and the first fledgling I've seen out of the nest this season. You might remember her from this story...
RB-M's mum is the lovely V-YW. She's about ten years old now (lordy how time flies!) and unusually became a mother at a very young age - at just one year old. She's onto at least her second fella though, this time an unbanded chap of unknown parentage.
Despite having fledged over six weeks ago, RB-M is still quite clumsy and gravity is not her friend. Kākā cannot fly when they fledge - it can take them a couple of weeks to get the hang of it and even longer to get proficient. Thank goodness we have the Zealandia fence to keep predators out and give these fledgling a good start in life!
A perfect way to end a lovely summer afternoon at Zealandia!
In the coming days and weeks, do keep an eye and ear out for these hilarious characters. If they have a large purple cohort band, you'll know it's a youngster. There are also unbanded fledglings out there too, and it can be hard at a glance to differentiate them from their mothers. The mothers also have yellow eye rings and will beg for food too. The chicks, however, appear much more gormless and naive, and their feathers are usually fresher too.
Earlier this week, I was checking on some kākā nestboxes at Zealandia EcoSanctuary. We do this to get an estimate of the chicks ages so we know when to band them (see this previous blog on banding baby kākā). There are special protocols we follow when checking boxes to minimize disturbance, so there can be a lot of waiting around.
We stay at a respectful distance when monitoring, but kākā like to know what's going on so we don't hide ourselves. Kākā observe their observers as much as we observe them. Mama is fluffing up because she's also begging to Papa for food for the bubs. Papa feeds her and she then feeds the chicks. It's a lot of regurgitation, but it does the trick. They did this right above my head so I was lying on my back trying to photograph directly up - it's not easy with a zoom lens so I only got this photo!
After many years of experimentation, Zealandia settled on using PVC conduit for the artifical nestboxes. They tend to result in healthier, cleaner, drier nests with less fly strike than a traditional wooden box. They also can be reused each year. Wooden panels are screwed inside for kākā to chew and climb on, and are replaced each season. I describe the design as inspired by NZ architect Ian Atfield (who loved organic round shapes and round portals), compared to the original wooden bungalow that dot the hills of Wellington.
Through incubation, and when the chicks are very young, Mama spends most of her time in the box, coming out every hour for a break and a feed from Papa. Once the chicks are bigger and older, she'll spend more time out of the box, entering to feed and preen the chicks, and to make more nesting material by peeling the wooden panels inside into shavings.
The nestbox porthole is the way kākā get in and out of the nest. For us humans, we have a hinged door on the side that we can open to get full access. It's totally up to these wild kākā to use these boxes if they wish to. Plenty choose not to and instead find natural nests in tree cavities. There are about 35 nestboxes throughout the Zealandia valley.
It's not until the chicks are about 7 weeks old that they start climbing the inside of the nestbox and testing their wings. Nestbox monitors will report hearing the scratching as they climb up and then the flapping of wings before the inevitable thud as they fall back into the nest, often to complaints from their nestmates. By about 8 weeks they're ready to fledge and will spend a lot of time climbing up and looking out, until one day, with some coaxing from Mama and Papa, they'll take a leap of faith and flutter-fall down to the ground ready to take on the world. Fortunately the nestboxes are all low to the ground but natural nests can be many metres up a tree.
It takes at least a couple of weeks to learn to fly with confidence, so initially the chicks climb everywhere. They're incredibly vulnerable to predation at this stage, which is why it's so important to attract our wild kākā to nest in the fenced Zealandia valley where they are safe from predators. The Zealandia fence is not just any old fence - it's scientifically designed to keep out predators. Kākā who breed outside the valley in suburban Wellington reserves suffer a much higher attrition rate due to predation from cats, dogs, stoats, weasels and other mammalian predators.
We are so fortunate to have this amazing rare manu in our city and it's been a privilege to be involved in their breeding success. This season's cohort are getting gorgeous purple bands - be on the look-out for them as they've started fledging and will soon be showing up at the kākā feeding stations at Zealandia.
For over a decade now (how time flies!), Linton and I have helped run the kākā conservation and research program at Zealandia EcoSanctuary as volunteers. In earlier days, we were focused on the conservation aspects and the chicks were closely monitored throughout the season. Now the focus is more on research and the aim is to enable researchers to easily identify individual kākā at a distance. To do this, we attach three coloured rings to their legs when they are still nestlings. They're about six weeks old, full of personality and with nearly fully-grown legs, but without the strength in their jaws to bite hard - the perfect age!
Working hands-on with wild native birds and banding them requires significant training, permits, and certification from the Department of Conservation.
At Zealandia, we have around 35 artifical nestboxes that the wild kākā can choose to use. Many choose natural nest cavities instead. We now only monitor and band those kākā in the nestboxes, rather than the entire population, so there are many unbanded kākā about.
At banding age, we take one chick out of the nestbox at a time, let them have a stress crap and then immediately pop them into a cloth bag for weighing. Kākā typically have 1 to 6 chicks, rarely 7, with most nests ending up with around 3-4 chicks varying over a 5 day age range. This nest has 4 chicks, all girls.
"Got your nose!" Linton carefully uses vernier calipers to measure the length and width of the beak, while Rachael gently holds. This clutch of chicks were charming and well-behaved, but some chicks will wrestle and wriggle and do everything in their power to not cooperate, giving the handler a lot to manage.
Once weighed, we expose their head from the bag to measure their beak, and then remove them entirely to measure their wing, tail, and tarsus (leg bone). We also do a health check for signs of metabolic bone disease, parasites, etc. Then they are leg-banded and popped back into the nest where they immediately tell their nestmates just how terrible the outside world is!
Special pliers are used to attach the stainless steel cohort band. It takes a lot of training to get these bands to fit just right, without a gap and without sharp edges. This season's cohort colour is a gorgeous purple. Here Linton holds the kākā's toes while applying the band to her tarsus while Rachael holds the leg. Look at those gorgeous feathers on the upper leg!
A single coloured cohort band, indicating the season, is attached to one leg and two narrower coloured metal bands are attached to the other. The colour combinations are unique. The purple band is coded M for Mauve (as we already use P for Pink). The cohort band also has a unique number embossed on it. These records are kept by the Banding Office of the Department of Conservation.
Mama kākā usually turns up when she hears the skrarking of the first chick coming out of the nest. She may or may not hang around for the entire banding process. She will also call in her posse of friends, who all yell at us until they get bored. Occasionally, they'll throw sticks down on us, but the parents never think to attack us despite having a swiss-army knife for a beak!
Ellen holds the first chick to be banded for the 2021/22 season, as she prepares to return her to the nest. Watch out for RB-M (Red over Blue on the left and Mauve on the right). She'll fledge in a couple of weeks and then spend a couple of months learning how to be a kākā. Eventually, mama will bring her to the kākā feeding stations - probably by January or February - where we'll all be able to see their antics.
As of the end of last season, we've banded over 1100 kākā at Zealandia - an amazing result from a founding population of just 14 birds, twenty years ago. They're now a common sight throughout Wellington, and it gives me great joy to have them visit our garden nearly every day.
Rachael's latest kākā project is fascinating - she's using AI algorithms to recognise individual kākā from mugshots. The kākā, of course, have other ideas, and have done everything from licking the camera lens, to throwing the camera down a steep bank! She and her students have some significant challenges to overcome!
With Wellington moving into Level 2, we took advantage of Zealandia reopening, masked-up, and went hunting for signs of spring. I do hope you're able to get out and enjoy nature in your neighbourhood, and that you enjoy this wee photo essay...
What are your favourite signs of spring?
My favourite project for Zealandia EcoSanctuary is creating the annual fund-raising calendar! And it takes around 18 months to create if you account for the effort required to obtain a seasonal range of photos. Many of us aim to get that calendar-worthy shot on every visit to Zealandia, and we visit year-round, often weekly.
Planning starts in December, and sometime in the New Year a call goes out to the volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller photographers and to regulars on the ZEALANDIA Visitor Art & Photography Facebook page to start submitting their photos. We aim to include at least three photos per month, with each month having a theme. It's a 13-month calendar, because it's created from folder A3 paper (to make an A4 calendar). This gives 4 pages for every piece of paper. A 12-month calendar plus cover only fills 26 of 28 pages.
Around March, the selections are made and photos edited and approved by the contributing photographers and staff. This year, preparations coincided with lock-down giving me a most-welcome distraction.
The coveted spot is of course the cover - that image needs to be compelling, have some negative space for branding, and be recognizable from a distance. Congratulations to Jason Plaisted for his wonderful kākāriki photo that graces the 2021 cover.
Once the photos are set, over autumn, the Storyteller writers conjure up inspiring stories to match the theme and images. Some keen contributors aim for the complete sweep with a set of themed photos and a matching story. But most months are a mix of many contributors.
As we head into winter, the fact-checkers and researchers dig in and confirm all the species are identified correctly, that the dates and moon-phases are correct, the Te Reo Māori is correct (including macrons), as are the holidays and observations. The pedants among us relish this task, and many lively discussions can ensue. I'm sure some of you are also pedants and are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes decisions (if not, skim down to the end to find out how to get hold of a calendar!)
I always fear the dates will somehow be wrong, but I use this amazing plug-in for InDesign (Calendar Wizard) that is a pig to use but when you conquer it, it automatically generates all the spreads. It's a life- and time-saver.
We set the moon phase as it is in Wellington - anywhere else in the country (or world) can be off by a day as the phase often changes in the middle of the night. There is often confusion as one of the definitive guides online has the correct phases, but uses the wrong Northern-hemisphere icons (yes, the moon is upside down in the Southern hemisphere - a fun fact that has confused many of my Northern-hemisphere friends).
Scientific names can be quite fluid for NZ species, with researchers actively updating taxonomies, but with scientific consensus and adoption of new names taking some time. For instance, you may have noticed that our gecko names have transitioned back and forth over recent years, and it's still not settled. Te Reo names are also fluid as old knowledge is reclaimed by local iwi, or new names are needed. Of great debate is whether transliterations for months and other European concepts should be used or maramataka months (from the Māori lunar calendar, which is based on moon phases). These decisions and recommendations are made with such care and much consultation. In recent years we have decided on the transliterations. I would love to some day help with a maramataka calendar too.
Some people wonder why we don't include specific observations and holidays. We strive to include many conservation-related observances, but the sponsoring organizations often don't advertise their dates (or haven't decided on them) for the coming year in time to include in the calendar (I won't name and shame). We also don't tend to include religious holidays unless they're an official public holiday.
Not including the Matariki period (the Māori New Year) seems like an oversight to many, and we do hope to include it next year. But there are many variations across different iwi in how the period is defined. This makes a lot of sense when you consider its all about observational astronomy: the appearance of the constellation Matariki on the horizon. And this of course depends on where you are in the country and barriers like hills. Some iwi use other constellations. It is a fascinating subject and there are some amazing Māori astronomers working on it. With talk of Matariki becoming an official public holiday, it will be interesting to see how consensus is reached because the aim is to have one date for the entire country (but which will at least vary each year), so by definition, some of what the Matariki period means will be lost to convenience.
Back to the Zealandia calendar, once the dust has settled and the facts established the best we can, it's then down to multiple rounds of proofing and sign-off from every part of the organization. We strive for no errors, but is that ever possible? By the end of the process, once the calendar comes off the production line, I'm too afraid to look! People tell me that it's absolutely gorgeous, so I'm going to trust their judgment...
If you're keen to participate, do join the Facebook group and start working on your photography. You're more likely to be successful if you've taken a fabulous photo featuring a subject we haven't previously had in the calendar (e.g., kākā, tūī, kākāriki, and takahē have had more than enough exposure). We also love photos that show wildlife interacting with its environment or showing an interesting behaviour.
In addition, do join my Art of Birding Wildlife and Nature photography challenge. Many of the successful contributors are doing the challenge, which is designed to upskill photographers for wildlife advocacy, and with outcomes like the calendar in mind.
If you want to lay your hands on a calendar for yourself, your friends, and your family, pick them up at the Visitor Centre or check out the offer above.
[Update 3 Nov 2020: You can now buy them directly from Zealandia through their new online gift shop!]
Finally, such huge thanks to the contributors for 2021:
Photography: Brendon Doran, Andrew Hawke, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Bianca Maddox, Amanda Main, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Jason Plaisted, Karen Rankin, Alison Valentine, Rory Wilsher.
Stories: Leon Berard, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Katherine Miller, Louise Slocombe.
Design: Judi Lapsley Miller.
Research & editing: Vanya Bootham, Libby Clark, Rosemary Cole, Chris Gee, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Linton Miller, Louise Slocombe, Rory Wilsher.
It's all about dreamy backgrounds...
This week on the Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge, we're tackling bokeh and blur. When I was first starting out as a photographer, I adored photos with a dreamy, buttery smooth background and a subject in sharp focus. But I struggled to replicate the look.
I eventually discovered there is more than one way to achieve it. Two techniques are free and the other costs lots of money. Let's chat about the free ones first!
Regardless of your camera, its settings, and your abilities, its possible to get out-of-focus backgrounds by being smart. No you don't need to get into the physics of why (but it is interesting if that's your thing). The secret is to get your subject close to the camera and ensure the background is waaaay in the distance, like in this photo of a tūī. This was taken at Zealandia (if you're familiar with the sanctuary) on the path leading from the Takahē lawn up to the Weka fence. To the right, the bank falls away to the wetlands There are scrubby trees at eye-height on the edge of the path and below and beyond them are the low-lying wetlands. In the distance are the green hills of the steep West Scarp. I love shooting here! If a bird lands on top of the nearby trees, the background is far, far away and creates a beautiful green blur pretty much regardless of the settings.
You can increase your chances of success by paying attention to your aperture, rather than shooting on Auto. Learning a bit more about how your current gear works may save you an expensive purchase. You want the aperture to be as wide as possible. This decreases the range that will be in focus. To get a wide aperture, you'll need to switch to Aperture priority mode (A or Av) or Manual mode, and set the aperture to the smallest number that the lens allows.
<pedant mode on>For the pedants out there, yes I know that it's actually 1 over the number, and so its the biggest number, but the reality is that people refer to just the denominator.</pedant mode off>
[Update Oct 16, 2020] At the above-mentioned location at Zealandia recently, I took a series of photos in Aperture-priority mode with my 100-400mm lens (set at 400mm) as if there was an interesting bird sitting on the foreground branches. (In this mode, as I changed aperture, the camera automatically changed shutter speed and ISO to ensure the same exposure for all photos in the series). For each photo I narrowed the aperture by a couple of clicks. The largest aperture on this lens is f/5.6, which is not that great but given how far away the background is, it still gives a nice blur. Even at f/18 the background is still nicely defocused (although its unlikely you'd want to use f/18 for wildlife).
You'll start having more reliable success if your lens is capable of apertures like f/1.4 and f/2.8. If you're using a 4/3rds or APSC camera, rather than a full-frame camera, the effective aperture will be narrower (ie the amount of blur will be lessened) even with wide-aperture lenses (this was a sad realization with my 4/3rds camera when I got an f/1.4 lens and I still wasn't getting that blur).
If you find you're frustrated by your gear, even when being smart about how you're shooting, this is when you start considering getting a lens that has a wide aperture. And usually when you start gulping when you look at the price and the weight. They're expensive and they're heavy. Don't consider getting one until you've exhausted all other techniques, such as the ones above, and that you understand what aperture and focus depth mean (otherwise you might not get the best out of your expensive purchase). But if you're serious about getting that look and having the ability to get it when you want it and not just when the conditions allow, it's well worth it. I must admit, I've drunk the KoolAid and don't regret it for a second.
One more affordable option that's worth considering is a Lensbaby lens, like one of the Velvet or Sweet lenses. Not only do they have wide apertures, but they also allow for special effects and can be a lot of fun to play with. You need to manually focus them though. They really are a lot of fun and you can even get them for your iPhone.
And finally, a fun thing to try is making patterned bokeh. You can buy Lensbaby templates to do this, or you can go old-school and cut up some cardboard to fit over the end of your lens. Simply cut a pattern like a heart or a star, ensure the edges are taped so no light sneaks around the edges, and set up a scene with your subject close to the camera and the background far away. Set the aperture to wide if you can. The key is to have something sparkly in the background like the Christmas tree lights in the photo above. You'll need to experiment a bit and you might have to manually focus, but if you succeed, your Christmas cards will be sorted this year!
If you try out any of these techniques, do leave a comment and let us know how you got on.
This fella cracks me up! I can just imagine him out for a moonlit stroll chortling away to himself. I don't know what the joke is, but it's a good one. Listen out, if you're in kiwi territory, for their distinctive snuffling and snorting as they go about their business.
It's not easy to get good kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) photos - they are nocturnal after all. But I was fortunate to get the opportunity to photograph this chap during the day as he foraged for grass grubs. Conservation staff thought he was likely in a territory dispute, so rather than take on his foe, he decided to take the peaceful option and forage in the daytime instead. It was such a rare opportunity that I shot a couple of thousand photos! And I couldn't resist reimagining him in a more familiar night-time scene.
More typically, photo opportunities are at night and lit by red torchlight (converting to black and white is the only option). Shutter-speeds are slow and ISO is high, making for a grainy photo with motion blur. Despite these limitations, I do love the above photo with the oversized shadow in the iconic kiwi shape.
I've been fortunate to be involved with some of the kiwi research at Zealandia EcoSanctuary, helping out Andrew Digby (before he became a kākāpō and takahē guru) and Helen Taylor. I never did get to see a kiwi chick, but I did get to see many adults. A highlight was watching a fight late one night, with the two kiwi "beak-fighting" like their beaks were rapiers.
We (literally!) dug kiwi out of their burrows during the day for health checks. This provided some unique opportunities to get close-up photos of their tiny wings and their huge eggs.
Helen's research suggests that all is not well for kiwi pukupuku. Despite their breeding success at Zealandia, Kāpiti, and other places around New Zealand, they are descended from only a handful of birds. This genetic bottlenecking decreases the fertility of each generation and lowers their genetic diversity. Helen's research has been instrumental in helping conservation organizations get a handle on how many individuals are needed to successfully translocate a species to a new home - typically many more than once thought.
If you found this page because you're after kiwi photos, I've donated a number to Wikimedia Commons with a CC-BY-4.0 licence which means they're free to use with attribution. Links to my fine-art prints featuring the kiwi are below, with sales supporting conservation at Zealandia.
Fine art prints featuring kiwi pukupuku
A real kiwi joker (kiwi pukupuku)
Out for an early evening stroll under a rising moon, our kiwi friend is chuckling to himself - I wonder what the joke is?
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts. Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
This fine-art print comes on archival Breathing Color Elegance Velvet paper. Each print is hand-signed and editioned.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
After midnight (kiwi pukupuku)
A snuffle, a rustle, then a ghostly image appears, silvery light dappling over his fluffy feathers - this is the rare and endangered kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) out for a moonlit stroll. Long cat-like whiskers and a heightened sense of smell ensures this kiwi will find a tasty dinner.
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
We're kicking off Week 1 in the 2020 Art of Birding photo challenge with "Where I Stand," which alludes to the Māori concept of "tūrangawaewae" - a place of empowerment and connection. As a Pākehā and as someone who grew up living in many different places, I can only have an inkling of what it feels to be connected to the land in that way. The closest I come is my current home in Wellington, New Zealand, and especially Zealandia EcoSanctuary. For the past 16+ years I've been involved in this huge community project to restore an inner-city valley to a pre-human ecosystem. Not only have we transformed the valley into a lush landscape teaming with birdlife, but we've transformed the surrounding city. Wellingtonians are now fortunate to live in one of the few places in the world where biodiversity is increasing.
Today we went for a typical walk at Zealandia, but instead of the usual feelings of peace and tranquility, I was struck by the feelings of impending doom. The light was low and the air filled with haze and the faint smell of burning. Not because of anything local, but because the apocalyptic climate-change-enhanced bush fires from Australia have spread smoke across the Tasman Sea over 2000km away to New Zealand. The scale of these fires is unfathonamble and unprecedented and I can't bear to think of the lives lost - both humans and other animals. So many friends and family across the ditch are in harm's way.
It's the start of new year and a new decade, which should be a time for hope and anticipation of good things to come, but it feels more like the beginning of the end of life as we know it. Is it really as bad as we're told? According to this recent article by Jonathan Franzen, it's probably worse, because as he quite rightly points out, scientists tend to be cautious and underestimate the likely impacts of climate change. We are now living a "new normal".
So what can we do? It seems so insurmountable, but I'd rather we try than just give up. It may just be a little thing, but I hope that this photo challenge gives some of us a voice to our concerns, and, in conjunction with compelling imagery, will spread ripples throughout our friends and families. Showing our love for our wildlife and wildspaces and what we have to lose if we don't change our ways. Right now. Right away.
Yesterday we got the opportunity to visit with and photograph Zealandia's takahē chick - the first chick for the eco-sanctuary and one of only about 370 takahē left in the world. As you can imagine, every chick is precious and vital for the survival of their species. So for now, there is restricted access, but hopefully soon the general public will be able to see the chick too. (Our access was due to our roles as volunteer Sanctuary Storytellers).
And not only do we have a calendar, but through October and November, selected and additional photographs and longer stories from the calendar will be on exhibition in the Zealandia Stairwell Gallery. Come and find out why we love Zealandia so much!
With stories by Louise Slocombe, Vanya Bootham, Chris Gee, and Lynn Freeman, and photographs by Janice McKenna, Hayley May, Andrew Hawke, Linton Miller, Chris Gee, Lynn Freeman, Brendon Doran, and myself, there is something of interest for everyone.
And now the 2019 calendar is sorted, I'm already thinking about 2020 - what would you like to see featured?
The volunteer Storytellers' support Zealandia's fundraising efforts with the calendar and postcards, amongst many other activities. Individual artists and photographers also have high-quality prints and photographs available in the store. Proceeds from sales go directly to support Zealandia's not-for-profit conservation and restoration efforts.
I'm going to take you behind the scenes of what has been one of my most popular posts on social media recently and let you in on how it came about... I know it has been puzzling some folks...
It was a typical Sunday morning, mid-winter at Zealandia, on our regular photowalk and we had just reached the pontoon to spend some time with the kāruhiruhi families as they went through their morning rituals. The low sun was just starting to break around the corner, back-lighting the birds and sparkling the dew still hanging on the leaves. Then the rays hit the chilly lake and ethereal mist began rising. For once I was delighted to have lost the battle as to who had the 24-70mm and who had the 100-400mm lens!
The magical misty light hung around for only a few minutes; just enough time to take a bunch of photos with the wrong settings and then to figure out something that might work better and to hopefully get a nice shot. And the photos were indeed "nice," but not much more and I put them aside. On returning to them some months later, I realized that there was no one shot that had everything, but with some judicious compositing I could create a scene with a story.
I know some people have assumed that this image is a single photograph and have puzzled over how I got the shot, so I'd like to set the record straight, so to speak. And in one sense it is "just a photograph," far less messed about with than some of my images. But I believe that adding artistic licence and liberating oneself from pure photography, it's possible to more accurately capture a moment experienced and to share that emotion.
So what did I do? Four very similar photos went into this image - each was selected for what the birds were doing over the course of just 5 minutes. One was swimming making a spiral of ripples, two youngsters were looking excitedly into the water, another was "hanging out the washing to dry", and others were looking with anticipation into the new day. No one photo showed all that happening and there was no time to wait until they simultaneously did something - the mist was fading too fast. Choosing one photo as the main image, I did a first pass through camera raw to make basic adjustments to the exposure and lighting. I then carefully masked, adjusted with camera raw, and composited in the alternative birds to create a more interesting version of the scene. Then came a little bit of secret sauce; using Topaz Impression to add in a silky, painterly feel at a lowered opacity over the image, and then layering painted textures using soft-light blend modes to subtly change the lighting. When viewed at full size, the more painterly feel is much more apparent. A couple of passes through adjusting highlights and shadows and spot-healing distractions completed the image.
Do you like this image more or less now that you know how it came to be? Do you feel cheated and that it somehow isn't real? Does it take away the magic knowing what was added and how it was made? Or do you feel like you've seen through my eyes and into my soul? Have we shared a moment?
What an incredible week for wildlife lovers in Wellington! Our first blessing was a kiwi pukpuku (little-spotted kiwi) out foraging during the day at Zealandia. Finally a chance for some photos under good conditions! Although quite unusual behaviour for a nocturnal bird, he seems healthy and is feeding well. There looks to be plenty of grass grubs on offer. Speculation is that he may have lost his territory to a competitor so is feeding during the day to minimize conflict. I wonder too if his vision has deteriorated further (he has a known eye issue) and he might not be able to tell day from night anymore - kiwi don't have strong vision, relying far more on smell and hearing, so it's not necessarily a problem for him. A visitor asked me if perhaps he should be taken somewhere where he can be looked after and have his day-night regulated, but really what better place than at Zealandia where he is safe to roam free where ever and when ever he chooses?
Our second blessing was the sudden appearance of a southern right whale in Wellington Harbour. It is a beautiful sight to see a whale frolicking in our picturesque harbour, especially on Thursday night as a calm sunny day descended into a pink sunset. The mood on the waterfront was joyous as Wellingtonians came together to experience this special moment. A moment of poignancy too as we reflected on the killing field that Wellington Harbour once was when whaling was in its heyday, and how we humans nearly hunted whales to extinction. It's thought that at one stage there was only one breeding female southern right left, and all today descend from her. Let's hope our visitor stays and brings friends!
Wellington can be a difficult and challenging city - this weekend is shaping up to be a good example - but moments like these make living here all worthwhile.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #NaturalCapital #Wellington #FreeWelly #kiwisforkiwi #zealandia
The hashtag #WhyWellington started as a marketing exercise but took on a life of its own as hundreds of Wellingtonians wanted to share with the world what makes our city so special. This week, Wellington gave us a reminder of why we choose to live here with a spectacular dusk and sunset. We started at Zealandia and then headed up Wrights Hill in Karori, where we were treated with fire and glory looking over Makara and ethereal pastel shades over Wellington City. The clouds looked painted on! I've put together this slideshow so you can enjoy too.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #sunset #NaturalCapital #Wellington
Week 1 of the Art of Birding Challenge (#artofbirdingweek1) and the first assignment was to go somewhere off the beaten track where we hadn't been before and take a photo that might inspire someone else to also visit. I chose Birdwood Reserve because I wasn't sure my legs were up to taking on the Faultline Track at Zealandia, which was Plan A.
I am so glad I didn't take on a 365 challenge as I'm struggling (failing) to keep up with a weekly challenge. Rather than doing them weekly, I find I'm doing a bunch at a time or when an opportunity arises, rather than deliberately setting out to do a challenge each week. Throw in some procrastination and perfectionism, it's a recipe for dipping out before the challenge is completed. But I am determined to see this through though, and today did a big push to catch up with the third quarter, even if some aren't my best work. Will I get the last quarter done by the end of the year? Feel free to place your bets!
Week 27 - Communication (Artistic)
I love how the light from her screen makes her face glow.
From teeny-tiny fungi to crazy kākā, the 2018 Zealandia calendar is a cracker! The creating of the calendar is one of the biggest projects my volunteer Sanctuary Storytellers group at Zealandia undertakes. Every year it gets better and better, with gorgeous wildlife photography and compelling stories. And at $19.90, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer or secret Santa gift. You can get it from the Visitors Centre shop.
Not only are there 13 months, but NZ holidays are marked along with significant wildlife and conservation days. And every cent made goes back into conservation.
A true team effort with photos, writing, research, and editing from: myself, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Brendon Doran, Lynn Freeman, Chris Gee, Chris Helliwell, Eeva-Katri Kumpula, Hayley May, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Ali McDonald, and Louise Slocombe.
It's taken me this long to complete the second quarter of the Dogwood 2017 weekly photography challenge because I struggled to get Week 14 Panning completed. Panning is hard! So without further ado, here are the results....
Week 14 - Panning (Technical)
This challenge has been "dogging" me for weeks, so what better subject to choose than a doggo. Must be the slowest pan ever done, but it's done!
With more rain forecast, we headed out this morning to Zealandia to get a quick walk in and see if anything interesting was happening.
...go to Zealandia of course! Of course? Yes it might be a bit chilly, and a bit showery, and a bit gloomy, but rug up well and you'll see lots and have fun!
Today four of us headed out, picking up a couple of strays along the way. For once we were all shooting with micro four-thirds cameras (a Panasonic GX7, two GX8's, and an Olympus OM-D), which given the low light was going to be challenging, but we were up for it. Well most of us were - Janice was certainly missing her Canon 1DX. It wasn't a day for birds in flight, so I decided early on to just pop on my 20mm/f1.7 prime and see how far I could push it.
After a hearty breakfast for some at Rata Cafe, we headed in just in time for the first shower. A quick change of plans and we grabbed the boat instead and took the sheltered scenic route into the valley. This week's Dogwood photo challenge is an f/8 portrait, so what better subject than Skipper Chris. I like how the narrower aperture means the valve tower comes into focus in the background.
For over three years I've been searching for Zealandia's kākā kura - a very rare red colour morph (variation), seen and photographed by a lucky few, but not by me. And finally I saw a wee orange head emerge repeatedly from within a clump of muehlenbeckia to feed. She was unmistakable! With salmon-orange feathering on and around her head, rather than grey and yellow, and an overall colour of burnished mahogany, she was drop-dead gorgeous. And nothing like any other kākā I'd ever seen.
Such a shy character too, but given how much she ate, I suspect she has many hungry mouths to feed and so was willing to take the risk of being seen by humans. Kākā are not normally that shy, but I suspect only kākā kura with shy genes survived the onslaught of Victorian collectors, who were hell-bent on scoring yellow, white, and red kākā colour-morph skins for their pathetic but highly-prized collections. If only they had cameras rather than shot-guns...
And this shy girl is of special significance to me - she came from one of the nests I monitor and I'd even held and cuddled her when she was banded and micro-chipped back in 2010 (and this is why I left the leg-bands in the image rather than photo-shopping them out). Back then, her colouring was normal so it presumably only changed after her first moult - she wasn't seen again until 2013. So as she's a banded bird, we know for sure it's the same bird each time she shows up, and we do know a little bit about her history.
Her mum "Pinky-B" was one of the first generation of kākā to hatch at Zealandia after the initial translocation. Her dad "Heath" hatched the year after. Both mum and dad are the progeny of the infamous Alfie Kākā and his first partner, making them brother and sister, albeit from different nests. Pinky-B and Heath were prodigious breeders too, so who knows what other interesting recessive genes and mutations are out there. Heath disappeared some years ago, but Pinky-B keeps going, though now she's partnered with her son/nephew and her fertility has dropped.
Nothing gives me more joy than heading out with my camera and friends to Zealandia EcoSanctuary for a day of wildlife photography, bad puns, and good coffee, so I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite photos from our recent outings. Just hover over the images for the story behind each.
I've just had a search through Lightroom and I have over 7000 photos tagged Zealandia with 295 different dates over 13 years - and those are just the ones I've kept! And I can't wait for the next outing - there is always something new to see or a different angle on a familiar scene. I firmly believe that Zealandia is just as much a sanctuary for us humans as it is for the wildlife.
Access Octomono Masonry Settings
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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