Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Waterbirds and the play of light at Bowra

Thanks to an artesian bore at the Bowra Homestead and the efforts of the volunteer caretakers, there is water in a shallow lagoon by the Shearer’s quarters and in the bore dam near the house. This water and some rapidly dwindling water in the waterhole at Sawpit was the only water on Bowra when we were there. The rest of the property was bone dry.

A few waterbird species were resident on the water at the Homestead while we were there including the two Yellow-billed Spoonbills featured in an earlier post, three Black-winged Stilts(1), three Black-fronted Dotterels and one Australasian Grebe.

Late afternoon light, thanks to the low winter sun angle (equals more atmosphere to filter the sunlight) and a very dry atmosphere (no water vapour to reduce the light reaching the subjects), produced some amazingly intense colours. A Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel and an Aussie Grebe all gave me an opportunity to capture some photos that I hope demonstrate the wonderful gift of light.

As the birds in the following photos moved, the light from the background changed. The complex interaction of direct, reflected and refracted light together with the different colours and patterns of the backgrounds made for some beautiful images.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-fronted Dotterel

There is only 10 seconds between the first and last Dotterel photos below. My position did not change – the camera panned to follow the bird as it moved to the right, no more than 10 metres in all. The camera setting remained the same and yet the background and light is completely different in each photo. The play of light, both direct and reflected, has a large impact on the images captured and is an important consideration when taking photos, especially of small moving subjects such as birds. Light changes are far slower for landscape photos.

Australasian Grebe (non-breeding)

There is a 3 minute and 30 second interval between the first and last Grebe photos below. I tracked the bird from a fixed position as it moved about 30 metres across the bore dam. The bird was diving for food so I had to wait for it to surface to get some photos. Once again the change in reflected light has had a big impact on each image captured.

The more time I have spent looking at birds through a camera the more I see both the subject bird and the changing background and look to capture the best background by either waiting for the subject to move or by moving the camera if the subject is stationary.

Of course, there are many other aspects of bird photography to manage, however it is easy to overlook the subtle aspects of background and the play of light, which is just as important as the subject when it comes to achieving an acceptable image.

(1)  Regarding the name Black-winged Stilt I note the BirdLife Australia English Names Committee has recently recommended adoption of the name Pied Stilt for this species and the BirdLife Australian Working List V2.1 now uses this name. White-headed Stilt has also been used to name this species – even though the black nape extends to the back of the head. I am inclined to continue to use the name Black-winged Stilt for now!

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