...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.
To me, the tūī is the colour of night - jet black with flashes of aurora green, shooting stars of white on his nape, the moon on his chest, and the blue promise of dawn. Twenty years ago there were only twenty breeding pairs in Wellington; now thanks to pest control they are a ubiquitous sight in everyone's garden. "Unfurling" will be available at my exhibition at Zealandia Ecosanctuary in June, Giclee printed on Canvas Lyve at 50x50cm.
In between working on complex photoartistic composite images, I do like to do straight photography too. This year, Linton and I have been doing the 2017 Dogwood weekly photography challenge, which alternates through technical, story-telling, and artistic challenges, and forces us out of our comfort zone to learn new things. All good stuff! We're a quarter of the way through so I thought I'd pop up a gallery with progress to date.
Week 1 - the rule of thirds (Story)
Off we went to the Botanic Gardens, cameras ready! I'm not sure if the pot of tea was exactly rule of thirds, but it got "explored" on Flickr, so is now one of my most popular images. Prints are available on request.
Week 2 - straight out of camera (Technical)
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.
Monitoring bird nestboxes often involves lots of waiting around for mum to leave the nest, often to find there was no one in the nestbox to begin with. One way to expedite this process with some species is to use a small car mechanic's inspection mirror (which has an adjustable-angle mirror and a telescoping handle) and a flashlight to get a glimpse of the box contents. This can take a lot of futzing around to get the angles right, and some of us just don't seem to have the coordination required.
After a particularly frustrating kākā-monitoring outing with various failed attempts at using a mirror, I wondered if it might simply be easier to stick my Nexus 5X into the nestbox "porthole" and take a quick HDR+ photo without any additional light or flash. (The entrance porthole is for birds to get in and out of the nestbox - for kākā it's about 10cm wide and about 50cm above the floor of the nestbox which makes it a convenient size for a mobile phone.)
Et voila! It worked. Not only was I able to ascertain whether the nestboxes were active or not, but the pictures were clear enough in some cases to count the eggs and age the chicks, such that I didn't need to open the box. The whole process (for me at least!) was much faster than mirroring, meaning less disturbance to the nest occupants, as well as providing a permanent record of the nest check.
After a week of weathering everything mother nature could throw at us (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, gales, and storms), and which are likely not all over yet, I felt the need to work on this series of images from our recent trip to the Marlborough Sounds. These ethereal, languid landscapes belie the awesome forces that created them.
Most of the photos worked into these images were taken on Simon Woolf's Natural Environment Photography Retreat at the Bay of Many Coves Resort. A long weekend filled with fun, photography, and quite a bit of rain! The images themselves were inspired, in part, by Julieanne Kost's course "The Art of Photoshop Compositing", which LinkedIn kindly offered for free recently (probably the only time LinkedIn has ever been useful). If you're interested in photoartistry, Photoshop or Lightroom, she has many tutorials and courses, many of them free, and all highly worthwhile.
The 2017 ZEALANDIA calendar is now available and it's filled to the brim with gorgeous nature photography, including my enthusiastic mating kākā photo! This year, the images came from the 2016 "Spirit of ZEALANDIA" photo competition, judged by National Geographic and Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore. There is a wide mix of bird photos, other critters, plants, and landscapes, all taken within the Sanctuary valley. The accompanying stories were lovingly crafted by volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller and Radio NZ journalist, Lynn Freeman. The calendar itself was researched, designed and edited by the Sanctuary Storyteller team. It's a pleasure to convene this team of talented and dedicated people. The calendar is a true labour of love and we are all glad to be able to use our talents to support ZEALANDIA in a tangible way.
The calendar makes a perfect Christmas present and all proceeds go directly to supporting ZEALANDIA's vision.
You can buy it online here or pop into the Visitors Centre.
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.
Have you ever noticed that it's the black and white packages that have all the cool edges and photo frames? But what if you want to apply a frame on a colour image? As in all things Photoshop, there are multiple ways to do this, but I like this quick trick.
"Winter at the Cape"
Images from Cape Cod and the Galapagos. Additional content used under licence from FoxeySquirrel and Ninka Studio.
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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