Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dust Storm Hits Sydney - Additional Material ;-)

Got a few extra pictures from the "famous" dust storm that hit Sydney last week. Before leaving for work I made it to the roof terrace and got a few extra shots of Coogee covered in red.

I teamed up with my Olympus and the Magna expecting to be able to take a few shots on my way to work - it was tempting to make a little detour to the Opera House, for once there would be a chance of making a picture different from the trillions of Sydney Opera House pictures already taking up memory in the cloud and on hard drives around the world - but I could not let the capacitors wait ;-) ... and instead of 1 of 10^12 it would still only be 1 of 10^3 - a simple google search will easily reveal that :-D

As can be seen the red color turned increasingly yellow as the sun rose and a bit of the magic fizzled out, left was just lots of dust. According to the news a large fraction of the Sydneysiders panicked and foolishly paid good money to have their cars cleaned - The Magna and I are obviously way to stingy for such stupidity, it will probably rain in one of coming months or we might even get another dust storm coming - so no need to waste money on such temporary beautification.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Long Day in Botany Bay NP - Part 4 - Landscape

Apart from reptiles, birds, insects and wildflowers there is also the landscape worth having a look at down around Botany Bay. Brown cliffs in combo with some green bush, add some high blue sky and some dark blue ocean and it is hard not to get some pleasing pictures :-)

The only activity where Botany Bay has ever let us down was probably during the infamous fish-less snorkel trip. Every time I look at the waters around Boat Harbour I get in doubt, can it be true that such crystal clear inviting looking water does not hold any fish? The army of fishermen and spearfishers always present seems to suggest otherwise - or could it be ...?

Well, well - no more Botany Bay for a while, I (nearly) promise! :-) have probably pushed it a bit by making it into 4 parts, but hey, it has been a windy weekend and I had to do some computer stuff anyway. I have attached a link to the Picasa album below, there is a few extra pictures that did not make it to the blog.
Boat Harbour + Botany Bay NP

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Long Day in Botany Bay NP - Part 3 - Insects and Wildflowers

My first insect in flight (IIF) photo :-) This little fly had a very curious behavior, it was flying about 10-20cm above the ground in a very intermittent way. Standing absolutely still examining the ground for about 2-4 seconds and then performing a quick move to a new spot reengaging into the surveillance mode. I do not know what it was searching for, but considering the massive (compared to body size) spear like protrusion, I just know that I would not like to be the target of its attention.

I cannot help getting sucked into macro photography! Still contemplating on how much return I can expect from an investment in some macro glass. Will it end up on the shelf, with me continuing shooting pseudo-macro with the Bigma or will I actually carry another (couple of) kilo(s) of glass around and use most of the time changing between lenses? :-)

Bull ants are very impressive fighters! Putting 3 kilo of camera equipment near them and they will stand on their back legs frantically trying to attack the intruder - put xx kg of Danish farm boy and they will in similar fashion do anything possible to spur an encounter.

If you know your bull ants well, you will actually be able to determine where you are from variation in the coloration of the bull ant chewing on your leg. They can be anywhere from all red to all black and as large as 40mm, in common though; they all have a nasty bite ;-)

A Long Day in Botany Bay NP - Part 2 - Birds

As already mentioned in Part 1 of the Botany Bay NP excursion story, the trip did not result in the sighting of any new birds, however, some of the "old" birds put on some high quality display worth a bit of memory card activity.

From a bird sighting point of view, the highlight of the day was probably a close'ish encounter with a White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Despite being top of the food chain these birds are surprisingly shy and vigorously try to avoid encounters with humans, wonder why? .... !!! Sometimes the gain is too tempting though and what looked like a dead squid floating around close to shore was too much of a temptation for an adult WBSE, bringing it into photography range.

Having one of these great birds circling above you is a fantastic sight! Cruising slowly down towards the ocean using a minimum of power, nearly disappearing behind the waves, hooking onto its prey and then lifting of with the help of its enormously powerful wings is quite an experience to witness for a Jutlandian farm boy :-D

Otherwise it was mostly the usual suspects hanging out around Boat Harbour. Most of the terns were the crested variety:

A good collection of cormorants, quite sure I saw two Eastern Reef Egrets, Black-fronted Dotterel and a few Pacific Golden Plovers - wonder when the American will show up? ;-)

Walking towards Cape Solander was disappointing from a birding point of view - but great in so many other ways - it might have been slightly too windy for birdwatching, the wind coming from the west also removing any hope of seeing any of the larger pelagic species. Instead I was trying to get some close up shots of some feathered wildlife. Trying to sound like a juicy lizard ... or potentially just looking very harmless seems to do the trick - These pictures have hardly been cropped so if someone wants to count nose hairs I can send the RAW files :-D

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Long Day in Botany Bay NP - Part 1 - Reptiles

Had a big day down south last weekend, weather is improving fast and all kinds of wildlife is creeping out from under their rocks to take advantage of the sun - that included yours truly, who had managed to get out of bed and was pretty determined to make a day out of it in combo with the camera.

I did not see any new birds, despite of a rumored visit by a red knot, but there was heaps of other stuff going on including an impressive selection of reptiles. Identification of reptiles is significantly more difficult than for the birds, guess they are less mobile and hence more prone to the development of local characteristics. An excellent starting point though is the NPWS Atlas of NSW wildlife in combo with a reptile book or - even better - the internet. Utilizing those sources I risk one eye and claim the first two pictures above to be of a Jacky Lizard (Amphibolurus muricatus).

I used most of the day in the National park. Making my way to Boat Harbour in the western end of the park and following the coast all the way around to Cape Solander. Covering quite a few types of habitats.

One of the top spots for reptiles is just off the carpark - less than 100 meters down towards the water and follow the path to the right - water drains through this area keeping it moist and a number of big boulders provide protection for the inhabitants.

There are always some opportunistic predaceous birds hanging around though; ravens, magpies and kestrels, guess they would not be there if they were not lucky once and a while and the presence of a few surprisingly short lizards seems to suggest that indeed it is a dangerous job being a lizard.

Have had a hard time identifying the skink above, best guess is some type of Garden or Grass Skink (Lampropholis delicata or L. guichenoti) The wildlife atlas does indeed suggest that there is another type of Lampropholis running around in Botany Bay NP. The big colorful one in the picture below looks very much like a Eastern Water-skink (Eulamprus quoyii), but as with all of the "guesses" suggestions are very welcome. :-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Red Dust Hits Sydney!

What a day! Sydney was hit by a red dust storm like never seen before .. in Sydney! - out in the outback they eat dust storm like the one that hit Sydney for breakfast :-) Still it got everyone talking including the media, for a thorough explanation of how, why, "is it dangerous"? and some impressive pictures go to the Sydney Morning Herald and hear and see their multimedia presentation of the event.
Waking up early morning I realized something was wrong even before opening my eyes, I could taste dust! .. I know, I am not a big fan of the vacuum cleaner, but I usually manage to clean the apartment before I start tasting it :-) Opening my eyes confirmed that not everything was as usual - everything outside was red! Obviously thinking of my devoted followers on the blog I grabbed the camera and started shooting so also you can enjoy the looks of a very red early morning in Coogee.

For those who does not know the usual view from my windows, I have included a picture taken 11 hours later in the afternoon after I came home from work.

A bit of excitement on a Wednesday morning :-) Normally I would not change the order of events that goes on the blog, but those lizard shots from down at Boat Harbour will have to wait till next blog entry - sorry about that to those of you that fancy lizards.

By the way, the pictures above are straight from the camera, shot as jpg, I have not(!) pumped the red color ... it was not needed ;-)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another Long Bay Excursion

I have been busy doing non-blog'able things lately and have not been able to pack as much action into my weekends as I would have liked to. However, living at the coast gives the possibility of getting into something that feels like nature in very short time and I have tried taking advantage of that - unfortunately my underwater camera has become very unreliable and if my last tweaks do not help I am afraid it will have to spend the rest of its life on land.

Being restricted to land-based photography I took of to good old Long Bay. Despite having visited it over and over again there is always a surprise or two hiding along the cliffs down there ... and if not, you will have to make one yourself :-)

I nearly always find myself at Long Bay towards the end of the day, probably because it gives the most fantastic lighting conditions imaginable! The sun going down in the west and the cliffs facing east out towards the ocean gives an amazing play between light and shadow ... and a welcome excuse for testing out the HDR capability of camera and software.

HDR photography: Stacking five raw files taken with -2,-1,0,+1 and +2 stops of compensation means that you expand the dynamic range of the resulting photo i.e. you keep information in the shadows as well as in the highlights. Afterwards you can play around and try to compress all that info into a conventional jpg file by performing a tone mapping step ... Depending on how hard you push those sliders you can end up with something that categorize everywhere between normal and freaky :-D ... Unfortunately, stacking five pictures also mean that it becomes very clear just how dirty your lens or sensor is - looks like I need a go with a bit of soap and water to clean that old camera of mine ;-)

Sometimes though the light is just right and you do not need fancy software to manipulate anything. Tip of the day is to visit Long Bay just as the sun is disappearing and shoot those golden cliffs.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fish Photography with the Bigma? :-)

Before jumping in the water at Clovelly, we had seen a Black-browed Albatross passing probably less than 50 meters from the shore. So after our dip and a second breakfast we decided to test our luck at the cliffs around Long Bay.

It all started out very normal a steady stream of various feathered wildlife was passing by and little G had already started ticking.

Small fish are eaten by bigger fish ... and more or less everything else as well! In addition to the underwater dangers throw in a bit of peril from above; albatrosses, gannets and a few thousand gulls and you know how dangerous it is to be little fish :-) Moving towards the clifftops we could see at least two large collections of seabirds preying on bait balls, one of them a few hundred meters from shore, but the other in range for a few pictures.

The feast slowly moved closer to the coast and we were able to see the predators attacking from below.

We talked to a couple of spear fishers standing evaluating the situation. Apparently the waters just north of Long Bay is a superb spot for good size targets if you are equipped with a speargun ... and do not mind the odd shark measuring you up ;-)

Great guns! It seems that there is always something happening out there when you get your lazy bum of the sofa :-)

Have started considering buying a new lens! I obviously need something wider than 50mm at some stage ... I guess(?) But imagine how exciting it would be to do a bit of macro photography! :-) Tempted by the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 for the wide end and the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro for the small stuff.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Quick Dip in Clovelly Pool

Saturday was little G's last full day in Sydney for a while so we had to concentrate all the usual excitement that you expect for a weekend into a super duper action packed Saturday.
Once again Sydney produced one of these absolutely amazing sunny late winter/early spring days with high blue sky and very comfortable mid twenties temperature - great guns! We decided to start the day by getting the wetsuits wet doing a bit of snorkeling. Walking towards good old Gordon's bay we realized that conditions were not exactly optimal and decided to relocate the snorkeling business to the neighboring Clovelly pool.

The fish in Clovelly pool are exceptional curious and very relaxed about having divers/snorkelers around, which also makes the pool one of the best places around Sydney to start training for an underwater photography career - do not know how well Mado pictures sell though :-D

The trick is to dive down and grab onto something solid like a rock and then stay still. The fish will move away because of the suspicious looking intruder, but curiosity or the fact that big fish eating generates lot of food particles in the water for smaller fish to eat, means that if you can just hold on for a while and wait you will be surrounded by underwater wildlife soon after. The variable in that statement is the amount of time you have to hold on before you get company. In Clovelly pool this is a matter of approximately 10 seconds, elsewhere it can be much much longer.

Little G showed some amazing acrobatic skill when it came to holding on and despite of the wetsuit being slightly on the tight side she managed to somehow hide a sufficient amount of air to stay down below well beyond the time needed to get a close encounter with the the fishes of the pool.

Highlight of the day was probably an octopus hiding under a rock. They are super intelligent creatures! As you can see on the picture, octopuses will utilize shells and rocks as a shield in front of them if they feel too exposed - convenient having 8 arms!

Picture is not best ever, it was taken quite deep down and there was not much light - I actually think I used the flash on this one. My old Olympus 725SW has done well for years - approaching 3 I think - but it might be up for an upgrade soon. It looks like the market for underwater P&S cameras has truly taken off and that there is actually a choice nowadays. has tested the contestants in a Waterproof Camera Group Test so next time we go snorkeling I might not be the only one taking pictures? :-)