Faces in the Street

Hey, all.

A quick batch of recent pictures today. I've been really busy of late with my preparations for a certain project. A quick reminder for readers in the Brisbane area that...

My Show..

..kicks off three weeks from tomorrow - Thursday December 7 - at Bramble Place Tea & Coffee, Sandgate, from 5:30pm.

Most of the hard work has been done: the printing on canvas of the featured images, plus associated material on paper, etc. I'm just waiting for the delivery of four pieces, new crops/sizes of some pictures I've already received but wanted to try in slightly different form.

The really fun part will be the hanging of the finished pieces, plus their information cards etc, before the opening. The layout and coordination of images with their neighbours is something I really enjoy, but up till now I've only done it while assembling photo books. This will be an exciting new experience for me.

Bramble Place...

..is three years old now - their anniversary was on the weekend. They've survived and thrived in a tough market - new coffee places open in the Sandgate area at a formidable rate. Hopefully the two-month addition of my pictures to their walls won't put them out of business!

Today's Pictures..

..were all made in the last couple of weeks, in the Sandgate/Deagon area, and presented in chronological order. Most are birds, but a couple of other favourite themes are represented as well. With all the computer time required for my show, plus preparation for the other two big projects I've alluded to, I appreciate even more than usual the chance to walk outside, breathe & exercise, and lose myself briefly in the zen of image-making with some local personalities.

Talk to you soon!

~山羊~

TAKE-OFF: One of our semi-resident magpies (a nuclear family of four at present) suddenly decides she has somewhere better to be.

BLUE-FACED: A blue-faced honeyeater in a rare moment of repose. They're beautiful birds but rather gregarious & raucous, constantly squabbling like so many Australian birds.

TAKING HER FOR A SPIN: Widgie the pied butcherbird at the wheel of my father's golf buggy.

DANGER: MAGPIE: Actually Loki (some neighbours named her) is one of the most placid, human-habituated magpies I've ever met. When she sees me coming, she swoops down & struts right up the middle of the road to greet me. She has triplets at present.

KITTY PORTRAIT: José, one of the coolest local cats, poses quite readily atop his mailbox early in the day.

THIS FLOWER BITES: A white crab spider lurks in a daylily flower in a neighbour's yard. I've been looking out for this little guy for a couple of weeks now. I can often see him/her with the naked eye but the macro lens helps! These are web-less spiders that emerge from hiding at night to nab unwary insect visitors.

A STUDY IN INNOCENCE: This is a favourite recent portrait of one of the magpie twins presently spending their days near the lagoon in Sandgate. I've known their parents, Beady & Beak, for a few years now. The twins have overcome much of their initial fear of me. 

JUVENILE MAGPIE PROFILE, EINBUNPN LAGOON: This could be the same bird as above, or its sibling. They were hilarious on this morning, squabbling & play-fighting with each other quite close to me.

BODGIE ON A FAVOURITE PERCH: Bodgie is one of my favourite local pied butcherbirds. He'll eat from my hand & gets very upset if another of his kind approaches at that time, emitting a comical squawk all his own.

ROSIE AT THE GARDEN GATE: This is Rosie I (Rosie II lives just up the road) - she's pretty shy.

HEY, REMEMBER ME? Beady comes between me & my laptop screen in the park at Sandgate.

MORNING ROUNDS: A bee does its thing in a patch of sow thistles (often mistakenly called dandelions) against a fence in Deagon.

LENNY ON THE ROOF: I hope you're paying attention. There'll be a test at the end of term. This is Lenny, who with Lena make up the next mating pair of magpies on my street. 

WORKFLOW INTERRUPTED: Beady takes liberties in the Einbunpin park in Sandgate. 

THE LURE OF THE SILVER SCREEN: It will be hard to work in a real office again...if that should ever happen.

SITTING ON THE FRONT FENCE: This juvenile is one of our local twins, getting braver by the day & letting me get quite close with my lens as I arrived home from breakfast.

CLAWS OF THE BUTCHER: One of our butcherbirds shows off her very impressive nail art.

A Black & White Dozen from the Shikoku Henro, 2015: #1

Howdy, folks.

A quick post today with images from olden times: my first Shikoku Pilgrimage in 2015, the reverse-order walk I did from temple #88 to #1.

I've been super-busy with my forthcoming show, and lots of other stuff. When I need a change of pace or scenery, I dip into older images that need work or reworking. I'm still finding shots from 2015 and earlier that I'd forgotten even existed! 

This dozen were all processed with black-&-white treatments. I don't make any claims about my skills with B & W, but it's a process I find myself enjoying more and more. My attempts in the old days were often far too heavy-handed for my tastes at present. I experimented with high-contrast looks, lots of effects like grain and borders, partial colourisation, split-tones etc. For someone with almost no background in analogue film, it was all a learning experience. 

I'm much more comfortable with a subtler form of B & W these days - unless the subject demands something super-dramatic and contrasty. The real revolution in my workflow came when I started using the customisable presets from VSCO and Nate Photographic. Of course, you try to get the image as good as possible in camera. A few tweaks with basic exposure, gentle shadow/ highlight adjustment, perhaps a mild crop and straightening, some noise reduction (I use Topaz DeNoise), then I jump over to the left-hand panels in Lightroom for the fun part: the basic "look" I'm after, based on the particular filmstock being emulated.

Many of these employ a bit of fade in highlights and shadows. At first this look struck me as too flat, but soon I found myself loving it. It's a style that's often found in street and urban photography, and it seems to suit temple shots in particular. As for when to go for B & W, like most photographers I find myself seeing the finished image that way before even pressing the shutter. It definitely works well with striking shapes and forms, textures, shadows etc; it's nice on skin tones; and I love it for making an image loaded with potentially distracting elements, colours, shadows, competing highlights etc simpler, more unified and "whole".

This dozen are presented in chronological order. I'll follow up with another batch a little further down the track.

~山羊~

Day 5: A meeting on a stretch of the old forest trail in Ehime Prefecture.

Day 9: A Rakan & a spiderweb on the approach to temple #66, Unpen-ji, Kagawa. In 2015 there were 500 of these enlightened figures, all different, lined up along the trail on the approach to this temple. They made for one of the most dramatic & mysterious backdrops I experienced - photo heaven on that misty, rainy morning after the steep forest climb. This year I reached the summit on a cold morning in the opposite direction & was disappointed to find that most had been moved & arranged in haphazard groups, losing much of their dramatic impact.

Day 10: Grassheads at the beginning of the 45km stretch between temples #65 (Sankaku-ji) and #64 (Maegami-ji).

Day 11: A pilgrim approaching the main hall of temple #64, Maegami-ji, Ehime.

Day 18: A thousand-year-old juniper at Yasaka-ji, Ehime.

Day 23: A tonbi (black kite) patrols the skies near Iwamatsu, Ehime.

Day 27: Passing Henro on Cape Ashizuri, Kochi. Their small packs, high speed & fresh appearance suggest that they're doing a section as a group tour, staying at guesthouses each night.

Day 31: Rugged coastal scenery on Yokonami Peninsula, Kochi, on my trek towards temple #36. I've now walked this lonesome, interminably winding, ascending & descending road twice, once in each direction. This year I started from #36 late in the day & ended up setting up my tent on an abandoned parking lot on this road. It had a drink vending machine opposite, so I was all set!

Day 31: Temple #36, Shoryuji at last. This would be one of my favourite temples, though that last flight of stairs to the main hall is a killer. That's Kobo Daishi looking down on the left.

Day 32: A sweet-natured border collie at a farm on the sun-baked road approaching the Kochi coast. Most farm dogs are nowhere near this approachable.

The same pooch enjoys a nap in the sunshine.

Day 32: A Henro texting at Sekkei-ji, Kochi, #33 on the circuit.

Bird/Man

Here's another teaser for my upcoming show, starting Dec 7 at Bramble Place Tea & Coffee, Sandgate:

Cracticus Maximus: in a frame within a frame, Cabbage Tree Creek, dusk.

I've been living with this guy for a while now, since making the photo a few months back in Curlew Park, Deagon. He (I'd usually use "he/she" but am confident of this guy's gender, based on his strong build and the pure-white feathers on his nape) belongs to just a handful of magpie subjects who've lent their time and image to a perfectly face-on portrait, where their eyes are locked with mine - or at least my camera's - at their own eye level.

His name - the picture's name - is Cracticus Maximus. Cracticus is the magpie genus (tibicen being the species name these days). You can probably guess where the Maximus came from: he's a rather striking presence. Definite leadership qualities! He's on my Portfolio page, he's in the leaflet I had printed advertising my show and some other material for my opening night - and he'll take one of the prime positions on the cafe walls from early December. Since the courier delivered him a few weeks back, he's been leaning against the wall in my bedroom, gazing my way, following me around with those all-knowing eyes. No wonder I have sleep issues...

I had him in mind for a particular spot in Bramble Place right from the start. I spent a little more on his printing as he's the only framed canvas in the show. I think he deserves it. It's been interesting to hear viewers' interpretations of the meaning behind his gaze: is it menacing, or proud, or trusting, or aloof? But that's birds; that's one of the things that fascinate me about them. Sometimes I feel a real connection or rapport with individual birds. There's a lot more going on beneath the surface than many people realise. But there's always this mystery, this gulf between the human and the avian that's hard to fully jump across.

(As an aside, I read somewhere once that Salvador Dali disliked or feared birds because of their eyes.)

As for this picture-of-a-picture, I made it last night, inspiration fuelled by a couple of Cooper's ales (hey, it was another hot day). I used a tripod and my Sony a7, swivelled vertically, and a 10-second timer. It was made right on and shortly after sunset - I did about 10 takes - on our backyard jetty on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. There's no rail on one side of the jetty, and beer and potential falls are not a good mix, so I was very cautious in my enthusiasm.

Be cautiously enthusiastic. I never give advice, but that sounds like some worth taking to heart!

~山羊~

 

A One-Goat Show - My First Non-Virtual Exhibition!

Hey there, and please excuse the exclamation mark. I've been resorting to them quite a lot lately, and with good reason. With good reason, I say! Here's why.

I mentioned last time that I'd be revealing the first of my three big doses of exciting news in this post. Well, here we go: I'm having a photo exhibition in my regular morning caffeine filling station, Bramble Place Tea & Coffee, right opposite the Town Hall in beautiful bayside Sandgate, Brisbane

Piia & Margus & their staff have become good friends & a regular part of most of my mornings. Their long blacks and breakfast offerings have fuelled many a photo-editing session - and blog post. It was after observing my progress on countless pictures via my laptop screen that, one happy day, they sounded me out about a possible show. I was stoked. The photo-printing concerns were stoked. The good people at MasterCard were soon popping champagne corks. 

I've called my show The Foot-Powered Photographer: Encounters on a Rambler's Path. Opening night is Thursday December 7, from 5:30pm. I'd love it if anyone reading this in South-East Queensland, or even further afield for diehard Goatians (if such an animal exists), could make it to this little milestone. In addition to the unveiling of my artworks within the very appealing interior of this heritage building and Sandgate landmark, there'll be wine and tasty snacks. I'm putting together a fitting soundtrack for the music player, and I've just ordered some little mementos for the first 50 attendees, plus a couple of door prizes I'll pick that evening.

Main attraction, of course, will be the pictures. I'll be including 51 images, if I can fit them all, from five countries and spanning 11-odd years. They're all on canvas and some of them are BIG. The last few weeks have been busy, with couriers pulling into the driveway and my living room at present resembling a studio in the aftermath of a whirlwind.

I don't want to include any spoilers, but here are some hints of the territory I'm covering in the show, illustrated with a few recently edited or re-edited shots.

There's a single shot from Switzerland, the oldest image in the show...

Journeying by ferry to Rütli Meadow on the banks of Lake Lucerne to begin a solo winter hike of the Weg der Schweiz ("Swiss Path"), 2010.

Swans on a winter's dawn patrol the Zugersee (Lake Zug) near Cham.

A bakery facade in the French part of Fribourg, the most beautiful city I explored in Switzerland.

Toboganning down the mountain at Melchsee-Frutt near the end of my time in Switzerland. It was very cold, I had ice in my eyebrows, I was shaking incessantly & I proved myself a really, really awful sledder. Then-girlfriend (Swiss-German) was embarrassed by me (again).

..but none of the above.

There'll also be a shot from my journey along the northern half of the Appalachian Trail in 2006...

An old barn & a freshly ploughed field in New Jersey. Contrary to NJ's gritty image, the northern part of the state, through which 72 miles of the trail meanders, is surprisingly wild - with a high chance of spotting black bears. The day after this, I was closely followed by a persistent bear on a lonesome stretch of trail right before dark. It was a relief to reach the shelter.

William Brien Memorial Shelter, New York. Some of the shelters in New York State are old, stone structures, unlike the wooden lean-tos typically found on the A.T. 

The monument to Shay's Rebellion, in which four thousand men took part in an uprising, is right next to the Trail in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. I'll also remember this area as the scene of the worst mosquito attack I've ever experienced. 

I met the great artist & inspirational fellow Gen-X-er Walton Ford by chance in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A passionate outdoorsman (as his work would suggest), he spent half a day driving me to his studio and sightseeing in the Berkshires, blaring the Brian Jonestown Massacre on his car stereo. Walton took this picture of me on a beer stop.

Yours truly & my little companion (one gets cold & lonely sometimes in a tent at night) Ed the Mountain Goat at journey's end: the summit of Katahdin, Maine, on August 22, 2006.

..but nope, it's not one of the these!

There'll also be a handful of icily beautiful winter scenes like these (but not these - you see how this is playing out?) from my time living in Upstate New York:

A road-sign with character on a long road-walk in Wilton, NY.

Scene from another road-walk near Saratoga Springs. 

I call this one The Day Hell Froze Over. (That title is perhaps my finest achievement as a writer.) I was enjoying a rather chilly stroll to the local liquor store. I miss American craft beer. It was always worth the walk.

Japan is well represented. There's a favourite image of Fuji-San...

Dawn on the approach to the summit of Kita-Dake (3,193m), Japan's 2nd-highest peak. Hikers enjoy the emergence from its cloak of cloud of Fuji-San (3,776m), highest mountain in the country. This was my 2nd time doing this hike in the South Alps, 14 years or so after my first.

..but not this image (though it was taken the same morning).

And there's another beautiful shot from the Japanese "mainland" of Honshu...

Also in 2015, I did a few days on the ancient pilgrimage trail, the Kumano-Kodo, in Wakayama Prefecture. Soon after taking this shot, I dropped & broke my most expensive camera. It would never manually focus again...

..but it was made much closer to Kyoto than this one and has a few way more attractive human subjects.

It wouldn't be my show without some scenes from my two Shikoku Pilgrimage walks - none of these, but not too distant, stylistically:

A Rakan (an enlightened being) points to the heavens on a mountaintop near Unpen-ji ("Hovering Clouds Temple"), Kagawa, 2015.

Pilgrims departing Iwaya-ji ("Rock Cave Temple"), Ehime, 2015.

2015: A kind Henro smiles for a portrait at a roadside shelter on Cape Ashizuri where I'd spent the previous night. This year I made it there in the morning after getting lost the (rainy) night before & having to crawl under the eaves of a village shrine to attempt sleep.

View through a shrine gate in the fishing town of Tosashimizu, Kochi. Both on this occasion (2015) & this year I camped in a park nearby. 

On a frosty morning this year at Dainichi Temple, Tokushima, temple #4 on the Henro, the first rays of dawn bathe a nearby hill.

A pilgrim on a rainy morning approaching Enko-ji, temple #39 & the final one in Kochi for clockwise walkers.

Several images from my two years in South Korea will be included - colour and black-&-white shots from walks both urban & in the wilds:

Attempting a foolhardy winter ascent of Halla-San (1,950m), Jeju Island, Korea's highest mountain. I bailed after a few hours, unnerved by the deep snow.

Falling Into Step, Jangyu. The three schoolboys, like me, were trudging towards Naedeok Middle School, where I worked Thursdays & Fridays. The soldiers represent their future - military service is compulsory in Korea. Hard to imagine who was most depressed here, but I'd say probably me.

Dragonfly charming on the banks of Daechoeng Creek, Jangyu, Dusk. I spent a lot of time doing stuff like this in Korea. The TV was godawful.

Cosmos thicket on a rural road, Jangyu.

Jangyu Beautified: Rare winter snow in late December, 2012. 

Do I even have to say it? I'm trying not to spoil the surprise.

Closer to home, there'll be a couple of magpie shots, of course, made earlier in the year than this pair...

The Breakfast Club, Curlew Park.

An old friend near Einbunpin Lagoon, Sandgate.

..including a rather impressive big fella (I'm talking massive) that I had in mind for a specific spot in the cafe from the outset.

Another huge image will feature a rather gothic scene from my neighbourhood at dusk, featuring close relatives of these guys (hell, some of these individuals may well be in the shot):

Little red flying foxes heading out for supper at dusk not far from home.

The Sandgate waterfront is well represented, pictures made in this kind of light (my choice of light in fact):

Stingray holes at sunrise on the Sandgate waterfront.

Local identity Rick Thomson-Jones prepares his Easter installation on the Brighton seashore, 2014.

There are two beautiful scenes of wading birds not dissimilar to this one...

A black-winged stilt on the Sandgate mudflats at sunrise.

..and there's a really lovely twilight scene featuring theses beautiful blooms:

Blue-faced honeyeaters go crazy for the spring jacaranda blossoms in Deagon.

There's also a favourite scene from a Moreton Island walk in 2014, one made very shortly (a matter of minutes) after this one:

Looking back at dawn on the eastern coast of Moreton Island, 2014.

That's enough teasers. The exhibition will be on the walls at Bramble Place for a couple of months, if you can't make it to the opening. All the images will be available for purchase; each will be labelled with a description of its context.

 I'll be saying this some more, I'm sure, but I'm really excited and grateful to Piia and Margus at Bramble Place for this fantastic opportunity.

~山羊~

Rainbirds (And Other Local Characters)

Hey, all. Apologies for the break in transmission. I referred last post to some big news - three beautiful bursts of good news; it never rains but it pours, etc. Well, each of these relates to a project, and these projects have taken over my life, with lots of mostly invigorating stress and late nights. I'm a hopeless multi-tasker, so everything else has been in a holding pattern. I'll fill you in about the first of these projects in my next post.

Speaking of pouring rain, the break from the summer-like heat and drought (we're still technically in mid-Spring) has been the other notable news in these parts of late. We had a week or so of near-constant rain - even when it wasn't actually raining it was gloriously dark and cool. So between the periods of stress and concentration, I carried my weather-sealed Pentax K3 and 100mm macro lens dangling over one shoulder while rambling around the yard and back and forth between home and coffee shop, peeking from beneath my ratty umbrella, letting the electronics get as wet as necessary.

That camera-lens combo is perfect for such conditions. Videos exist online of Pentax users holding the K3 under a streaming tap without ill effect - though I would draw the line at that kind of behaviour. It should be noted that most of the Pentax lens line-up (the ones I could dream of affording, anyway) are not weather-sealed. The other key advantage of the macro lens is that its image quality is absolutely superb, and not just for bugs and flowers and other little things.

(A few of these shots were taken with my favourite camera, the Sony RX1 - far from weather-sealed and very expensive, so I would never keep it exposed in heavy rain. I've indicated below which images were made with the Sony.)

Most of these shots are of wildlife observed during that wet period. I always find rain-sodden birds at once touching and hilarious. They epitomise the words bedraggled and wretched - but also stoic. The lives of birds and other critters often put things in perspective for me. No matter how harsh the conditions they are forced to endure, they just get on with it without complaint. It can't be fun to spend the night in a structure of mud or twigs or other found objects, roofless and exposed, high above the ground while the branches sway with every gust. Our verandah is often first port of call in really challenging weather for a number of the local avians.

For a few days now we've been back to normal, weather-wise. The heat resumed its intensity today, but reports suggest possible thunderstorms and hail for a wide front along the east coast this evening. I'm hopeful - nothing destructive, ideally, but a nice storm would be awesome. The weather bureau has let me down many times before, however, so I'm not getting my hopes up...

~山羊~

One of our backyard grevilleas loaded with raindrops, sparkling in the morning sunshine.

Maggs, our beautiful semi-resident magpie, who spends much of each day at our place, with her mate, Bashful & (at present) her kids: twins.

One of said twins in the next-door neighbours' tree. The twins have just reached the point where their parents let them roam further from home without chaperones. They're still hopeless at feeding themselves, however.

A noisy miner parent (right) feeding his/her twins a freshly caught bug. The miners (the name is surely an old corruption of mynah) are annoying pests to most other birds, constantly harassing them in noisy mobs, but scenes like this have endeared them to me a little.

Maggs's feet as she greeted me in the front yard on my return. Bird feet fascinate me. You can really see the dinosaur in those wondrously armoured apendages.

Widgie the pied butcherbird in late-afternoon sunshine.

An ibis on a neighbour's fence during a shower.

Widgie again. Such beautiful little birds, though that beak can inflict some formidable damage on prey ranging from insects to lizards, snakes and even other small birds. I saw one this morning grab a gecko from the grass.

Flash the ginger cat. Ten minutes or so from home, I pass Flash's place each day. If he's in the yard, he usually trots over for a chat (Sony RX1).

This male magpie and his mate have a juvenile at the moment. This was taken on the steps of Bramble Place Tea & Coffee, where I work most mornings on pictures etc while getting my caffeine fix. They live near the crown of an enormous old fig tree in a nearby park. I've been photographing them for a long time now.

One of the rainbow lorikeet pair on our bird feeder enjoying breakfast. The male (we think) will eat from my mother's hand. They are very possessive of this breakfast diner and will act quite aggressively towards any other lorikeets who attempt to share the bounty.

The male half of the next magpie pair up the street. His name is, er...Paul. Hey, I didn't name him. Paul & his partner have triplets at the moment.

Roadside toadstools emerge reliably in the same spots after rain (Sony RX1).

A local crow I've befriended, checking me out from a poinciana tree. The owner of this property, an older lady, died earlier this year; her house was quickly sold and the property subdivided. I fear for the long-term survival of this tree and her other garden vegetation.

The male magpie at Bramble Place, on a different day from the shot above (RX1).

Purple swamp hens, like a visitation of disonsaurs, in the park at Einbunpin Lagoon, Sandgate.

A juvenile (& very whiny) pied butcherbird doing its trapese act in our yard.

Flash again, doing his morning rounds (Sony RX1).

Paul contemplates an ocean-like rain puddle (RX1).

Abandoned flower garden in the same yard as the crow picture, above (RX1).

Maggs in the backyard, scanning the skies for potential threats (RX1).

My corvine pal lugging some useful home-maintenance material.

Bashful (Magg's mate) showing the effects of a recent downpour.

Widgie in falling rain.

Maggs or her mate in a favourite lookout post in a neighbour's yard.

A ginger cat (not Flash - one of his neighbours/adversaries) in a sunny spot in his front window.

Bodgie the pied butcherbird showing his distinctive haircut on our driveway (RX1).

A corella taking a drink in a handy puddle.

Let's finish with some adorable puppy cuteness! This is Bailey, my sister and her kids' recent addition to the family. He'd just been enjoying a run around a rain-dampened yard.

How the Tree Snake Got Its Name

A week ago, maybe less, I had one of those unexpected encounters that keep life interesting for a photographer or wildlife nut. Or photographer/wildlife nut.

Walking home from my morning coffee session in Sandgate, I found this lovely creature curled around the rail of the little overpass that spans Gasworks Creek (really just a mangrovey stream) in Deagon:

This is why I always carry a camera, even - especially - on local strolls. He/she is a common or green tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata), a non-venomous and -  as the name would suggest - very common reptile in the Brisbane area and beyond.

I made these shots with my K3 and 100mm macro lens. My subject didn't appreciate the attention and quickly uncurled from the rail to take to the branches of an overhanging mangrove tree. It was beautiful, a real privilege to watch it move.

Just a few days ago we had one at home in a large houseplant pot on the verandah. I later saw it - twice - shoot across the garden path between clumps of vegetation. It might be arboreal by predilection but it moves like scaly liquid on the ground. There one second, then gone, like a hallucination.

The Common Tree Snake has an average length of 1.2 metres but a specimen of 1.96 metres was removed from under the bed sheets on a bed at Goodna. Another specimen of 1.9 metres was removed from a car engine bay at Narangba...It is an energetic and mobile diurnal hunter of skinks and frogs which comprise the bulk of this species diet. The introduced Asian House Gecko is abundant in all suburbs of Brisbane and is quite likely the primary reason that the Common Tree Snake is not only common in suburban areas but has managed to persist in even the most vegetation-devoid suburbs including the inner city of Brisbane... The Common Tree Snake is undoubtedly the single most common species to require capture from within houses.
— Snake Catcher Brisbane

One of our former pied butcherbird co-tenants once created an unforgettably gruesome scene by hanging a freshly slaughtered tree snake from a limb in our front yard. And a few years ago, my father was bitten on the lower leg by an unidentified snake in the backyard. We presumed it was a tree snake. He suffered no symptoms but we called an ambulance to be safe; he was stretchered down the steps and taken to the hospital as a precaution, but was returned home after a couple of hours.

I'm trying to be more diligent about sliding the screen door shut. I like snakes but finding one in my sheets, even a harmless beauty like this one, would be pushing the friendship...

~山羊~

Snails Gone Wild: Slow Travel, Shikoku Style

Hey, sorry about the Grand Canyon-sized gap between posts. I've got a huge project underway at the moment - actually, a couple of huge projects - actually, three huge projects - the details of which I'll reveal soon. My head's spinning and I seriously think all the squinting and straining at images and words in viewfinders and on computer screens will necessitate another trip to the optometrist's soon. But it's really exciting all the same.

*          *         *

It's come to my attention - that is, I finally noticed - that I like snails. Not in a culinary sense; that's never gonna happen, intentionally, anyway. But I can't resist attempting a shot of one when we come face to feeler. They're pretty rare locally, and when I do find one in the yard, it's tiny. I used to photograph their much larger cousins in Korea quite a bit, but all but one of the shots below were made in Shikoku on my first Henro walk in 2015. Must have been the warm weather - only one encounter with a fellow slow traveller came out of this year's spring pilgrimage (the last shot, below).

These are freshly re-edited; I've placed them in chronological order. I've long been fascinated as a photographer by the nexus between the animal/plant and human worlds, never more than on the 88-Temple walk. There's something compelling and very "haiku" about an animal treating our species' attempts to bridge the here and the hereafter as just...a bridge.

~山羊~

Day 5, Aug 31, 2015: A Traverse of an Incense Burner at Kokubun-ji, Temple #80, Kagawa

Day 7, Sept 2, 2015: A Sleeping Snail on an Ancient Gravestone at Iyadani-ji, Temple #71, Kagawa

Day 14, Sept 9, 2015: Ascending Snail at Senyu-ji, Temple #58, Ehime

Day 14, Sept 9, 2015: Roadside Grave near Emmei-ji, Temple #54 , Ehime 

As above

Day 25, Sept 20, 2015: An Arboreal Adventure at Enko-ji, Temple #39, Kochi

As above. Note the main hall & pilgrims in the background.

Day 30, Sept 25, 2015: A Snail Traversing a Rhododendron Leaf at Iwamoto-ji, Temple #37, Kochi

Day 26, March 25, 2017: A Wet Day on the Kochi Coast. Great "walking" weather for snails, a little wearisome for human pedestrians. I moved this guy to the safety of the verge after making this shot & before I sought refuge in one of the rare convenience stores with internal seating. Snails, of course, are blessed with their own shelter.

The Crow & the Feathered Mosquito

Hovering above you like the speck in someone’s eye
Measuring the distance between now and when you die
Everything that happens makes sense to someone else
So far away above you, you’ll never know yourself.

So you want to know, so you want to know
If you want to know what the future holds
The Black Crow knows.
— Robyn Hitchcock, 'The Black Crow Knows'
The willie [willy] wagtail is highly territorial and can be quite fearless in defence of its territory; it will harry not only small birds but also much larger species such as the Australian magpie, raven, laughing kookaburra, or wedge-tailed eagle. It may even attack domestic dogs, cats and humans which approach its nest too closely.

It has also been observed harassing snake-neck turtles and tiger snakes in Western Australia. When harassing an opponent, the willie wagtail avoids the head and aims for the rear. Both the male and female may engage in this behaviour, and generally more intensely in the breeding season...

The willie wagtail has more than ‘responded well to human alteration’. It has been seen to seek out the company of individual humans, following and “chatting”. Calling out to a human who is inside a house, following (and chatting) at quite some distance from the nest is not aggressive or protective.
— Wikipedia

It's fair to say crows are never going to win a popularity contest - either a human or avian version. I like them - a lot, despite being attacked by a pair of monsters in a Tokyo park earlier this year (I got too close to their youngster and suffered a couple of severe blows to the head). A large, raucous mob hangs out at the end of my street - my post Kissing Crows & a Magpie Sunburst features a couple from that group.

Willy wagtails are very common in Australian suburbs - or used to be. I've had more than one conversation with people agreeing that they don't see as many as we did in our childhoods. It's possible the local butcherbirds, frequent visitors (and feeders) in our yard, are keeping the numbers down. A year or so ago, one of our sweet, semi-tame male butchers shocked us by hanging a wagtail corpse from a tree in the front yard. Not as cute and cuddly as they seem...

We have one - or possibly a pair - nesting along the creek somewhere near our backyard. He/she/they are frequent bathers in the birdbath just before dark. I even found it trying to drive a massive carpet snake from our yard at dusk recently - unfortunately it was too dark for a decent shot. This picture was taken on the backyard jetty not long ago:

Another pair has nested for the last couple of years at least in mangroves along Gasworks Creek, a tributary of Cabbage Tree Creek that I cross each morning as I head up the road for coffee. There's often some kind of wildlife drama to enjoy on my morning stroll.

The shots below, taken with my Pentax K3 and 50-200mm lens, were made a few mornings ago. The poor corvine was enduring a prolonged wagtail attack, quite stoically, on power-lines not far from the wagtails' nesting area. There was just a single assailant, but it was persistent, and kept up the harassment for 10 minutes or so, the wretched crow (it might be a raven; I've given up trying to tell them apart) snapping now and again at the tiny delinquent but otherwise putting up a show of resigned indifference.

The show ended without any obvious resolution. As I moved on, the crow remained, and the wagtail had headed back into the mangroves, its show of force concluded to its satisfaction.

~山羊~

Swallowing Up the Sunrise

These welcome swallows (Hirundo neoxena) - welcome swallow is the common name - were photographed a week or so ago around sunrise on the Sandgate waterfront. Welcome swallows are common over much of Australia, frequently nesting on or close to human dwellings and other human-made structures.

I made these pictures on the end of one of the numerous old, crumbling stormwater pipes that jut out from the base of the seawall to empty onto the mudflats. These drains aren't exactly pretty but they make handy perches for wildlife and humans wanting to keep their feet dry when the tide's in while pointing their cameras out into the Bay.

Swallows are plentiful all along the seawall. They seem to nest within the pipes, and - particularly in the early morning - swoop and dart in swirling, feathered gulps as they hunt insects in the air and on the water's surface. Yes, gulp is, apparently, one of the favoured collective nouns for swallows - at least in Britain - among birders, according to this site.

One thing I love about photography is the way it teaches you to look, to notice and, most importantly, to see. Swallows are so common and so small that they're often ignored. They lack the obvious personality of, say, a magpie or a crow. But spend a bit of time watching them and you develop some appreciation. I made these images over two consecutive mornings (all but the last two on the first morning). I was out there on the end of the pipe readying for sunrise. The swallows were already at work, swirling and darting on the hunt for breakfast. I soon found myself absorbed in their activity and forgetting about the unfolding drama on the horizon.

The longer I sat there, the less my presence seemed to bother them, and I was able to edge quite close to a trio of youngsters that I presume are siblings. Perhaps they were so young that they were yet to develop a healthy distrust of Homo sapiens. Their parents would swoop in periodically - both parents take part in feeding - to deposit a freshly caught insect in their rather formidable mouths - actually, halfway down their throats. Breakfast for young birds can be a full-contact sport.

These pictures were made with my Pentax K3 and 50-200mm lens from a distance of a couple of metres. My favourite settings for shots like these are ISO 1600 and an aperture of somewhere between f5.6 and f8. I processed all of them, yet again, quite quickly in Lightroom, with some mild noise reduction in Topaz DeNoise and the final "look" achieved using whichever of Nate Photographic's film-emulation presets appeals the most, finishing with some tweaking of highlights, shadows etc, plus some sharpening, sometimes a little extra work on the bird's eye, and perhaps a subtle vignette, back in Lightroom.

~山羊~

Mountains Made of Sand: My Moreton Island Collection

Moreton Island is my favourite part of Australia, and it's a place I'll keep returning to as long as my walking muscles still work. You need those walking muscles if, like me, you're one of the rare pedestrians travelling around the island. Moreton is a huge dollop of white sand without any surfaced roads. Most visitors and residents drive around the place via beaches and the odd inland vehicular track. Walking in baking-hot sand in the middle of the day can be hard going, as can negotiating the sandy slush near the water's edge. But I keep going back.

As a kid my first visits to Moreton were made on family trips in one of the sailing boats or multihulls my father built. The Big Sandhill, on the south-western coast, was positively Everest-like when we were small. It's still massive today, and different every time I return. Everything about the island - its beaches, streams, dunes, inlets - is in a constant state of wind- and water-driven flux. Moreton is the world's 3rd-largest sand island. Its larger siblings, Fraser (world's biggest) and North Stradbroke (north and south, respectively, of Moreton) were, like Moreton, formed by the accumulation of sand carried north from what is now northern New South Wales. Mt Tempest (280m) (awesome name) is reputedly the world's tallest stabilised sand dune. The only rock is sandstone at the northern tip, from which convict labour created the lighthouse that still stands on Cape Moreton. But even with the paucity of real soil, native forests, and the animals that live within them, thrive.

I first walked the entire island - circling it via the beaches - around nine years ago.

Moreton Island (Wikipedia, public domain)

My parents were cruising around Moreton Bay with a couple of friends for a few days; Dad dropped me ashore at the Big Sandhill and said he'd pick me up in two days' time. I had no idea how far my journey would be or how long I'd take, so I hauled ass, despite pulling a leg muscle in the soft sand and quickly developing painful abrasions under the straps of my hiking sandals from sand and seawater. Lessons learned. I went clockwise and got back to the Sandhill as planned, sunburnt and limping, in two days, five hours. I was hooked. I've now circled the island four times, twice in each direction, plus a long haul through the middle on overgrown WWII-era dirt roads and bush-bashing from coast to coast without the use of paths on one memorable (and stupid) occasion.

These days I always get the train down to Wynnum and the ferry across the Bay (35km from Brisbane). Anti-clockwise is my favourite direction, the nightmarishly soft sand from the Little Sandhill to the village of Kooringal my most-dreaded stretch, and the ocean coast of the wild south-east, particularly at dawn, the area I love the most. But Moreton crams a ton of variety, microclimates, habitats and moods into its ever-evolving nooks and crannies. The mainland-facing, sheltered side, for instance, has the Sandhills, mangroves and mudflats in the north- and south-western corners, an old whaling station, WWII structures, four settlements, wrecks, dugongs and beautiful inlets. The ocean coast on the eastern side is wild and exposed, with miles of surf, the crumbling WWII observation posts and gun emplacements, and sheltered waterholes. Most of the island is national park and there are three or four places you can find water. I carried a GPS on my last Moreton walk, in 2015, and can report that circumambulating the island requires a 60 mile/100km loop. Three nights' camping is, for me, ideal, or longer if possible. 

I've spent the last fortnight rebuilding my entire Moreton Island Tracks gallery, which you can find on my Australia page, or right here. Most of the pictures included were made in 2014 and 2015, though there are a couple from earlier walks. The trusty Sony NEX-5N and Zeiss 24mm lens did most of the hard non-walking work, but I also used my cheap 16mm pancake lens with fisheye adaptor for a few shots. I re-edited all of the shots in Lightroom using Nate Photographic's beautiful presets for a filmic look. I love using these presets, which have really simplified my workflow and made it a lot more fun. Oh, and all of these shots were made as JPEGs - these were my pre-RAW days. 

Here's a sample of images from the gallery. I can't wait to return to Moreton, hopefully within the month, with a different camera kit and lots of ideas for places to walk, camp, shoot, drink a quiet whisky in the evening and breathe in the ocean breezes and all that recuperative wildness.

~山羊~

Sunrise at Cape Moreton from the eastern coast.

Surf in my favourite corner of the island, down in the wild south-east.

A dead dolphin on the eastern shore I encountered by headlamp light on a trek in search of a campsite.

I'm not fond of 4 x 4s in national parks, but they do make pretty patterns sometimes.

See what I mean?

A whale skull on the ocean beach - I'm gonna guess & say humpback.

End of an ocean traverse for a tired coconut.

Pelicans in the wild open space of the south-east.

Soldier crabs at low tide on the sheltered, peaceful, western coast.

Dusk at North Point on the far-north-eastern shore. 

14 Magpie Portraits

I was sitting at the window here in my regular morning coffee spot half an hour ago when I saw a flash of movement across the road. A very Australian seasonal drama quickly unfolded as a passing woman dodged the swooping of a protective male magpie; his mate and their juvenile offspring were nearby under a Ficus tree. He was just doing what a certain percentage of males do in early Spring, and his efforts seemed more formulaic than committed acts of aggression. No blood was spilled and he gave up the pantomime after a couple of halfhearted dives from a nearby wall.

I'm pretty sure I'm safe, as I know the parents and have been paying my protection money to them over the years (scraps of meat). One of the parents, in fact, is on my Portfolio page: the magpie on the Town Hall spire with the crescent moon beyond. The same magpie or its mate is also in my Marvellous Magpie gallery: the blue-hour shot of the bird perched on a streetlight with lorikeets swooping past in the background. My friends who own this cafe, also, should be fine, as they took the youngster in question home for the night recently when it seemed to have been abandoned here. On bringing it back in the morning it was quickly reclaimed by its parents. Magpies never forget a face.

Faces are the theme of this post - magpie faces. I've spent the last week tidying up the magpie gallery mentioned above, re-editing, rearranging and adding to the subjects therein. 14 of them stood out as "portraits" - head shots or poses from the "shoulders" up - and I've included them all here. All were taken in either Deagon or Sandgate over the last couple of years; all with my Pentax K3. I used my favourite portrait lens, the 100mm macro, for most, but shots #1, #7 and #14 were made with the 50-200mm lens.

As for my subjects: most of the pictures show different individuals, though #2 and #11 might be the same juvenile - the parents had twins, so I can't be sure! And #5 and #14 are definitely the same bird: Maggs, our resident female. She must be close to bringing her latest offspring around for introductions, as she and her mate have been going to and fro with meat for the kid(s) for weeks now. I'm really hoping it's not twins this time. The noise of a single juvenile crying for food is hard enough to take after a few hours of whining; a twin assault is not for the faint-hearted.

~山羊~

Magpie #1

Magpie #2

Magpie #3

Magpie #4

Magpie #5

Magpie #6

Magpie #7

Magpie #8

Magpie #9

Magpie #10

Magpie #11

Magpie #12

Magpie #13

Magpie #14

Mudflat Meditations: Searching for the Sublime on the Edge of Moreton Bay

Hey, all. It's been a while between posts. Here's why.

When I released this website into an indifferent world a few months back, I'd already spent way too long building it and just wanted the danged thing out there. The galleries were thrown together pretty fast; I figured I'd tidy them up later. Anyway, I've been tinkering with collections and individual images ever since, for several hours each day. And this one finally feels ready.

Mudflat Meditations is devoted to the waterfront area of the northern Bayside suburbs of Brisbane. I've spent hundreds of hours over the years prowling the mudflats and creek banks and the seawall walking paths with a camera and tripod, usually before and just after dawn, occasionally in similar light at the tail end of the day. I want to capture some of the beauty and drama of my local stomping ground at my favourite time of day, without, I hope, the results looking overpowering or cheesy. 

Here's a short sample of the finished shots. There are a ton more in the gallery, and plenty more will soon join them. Most were taken in Sandgate, but Brighton, Shorncliffe and the area around the mouth of the Pine River are also represented. Oh, and although there are a few pelicans in there, I've decided to create a new gallery dedicated to waterfront birds which will include a lot more of these, plus the usual suspects: gulls, ibis, stilts, oyster-catchers etc. More to come.

When next we "meet" it will be "official" or "calendar" Spring. It's been a weirdly mild Winter here, even for the usually moderate subtropics. I'm going to miss this perfect walking/shooting weather, but at least the seawater in the tidal pools will be tolerable again in barefooted, pre-dawn excursions across the mudflats!

~山羊~

A Bench with a Million-Dollar View, Sandgate

Sunset & Stingray Hole, Hay's Inlet

Walking the Dog, Sandgate

And Then the Heavens Split Open, Sandgate

Late Afternoon on the Sandgate Mudflats

A Waterfront Barbecue After Rain, Dawn

A View of Distant Redcliffe, Dawn

Blue Blubber Invasion, Sandgate

Early Evening on the Mudflats

Blood Red River: Sunset & Low Tide, Sandgate

The Barbed-Wire Coast: My Best Korean Adventure Now Has a Gallery

Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요), folks!

Fine-tuning the images in my last couple of posts from my 13-day Korean coastal walk in 2012 has rekindled a lot of sweet memories from that adventure.

Yes: sometimes the mind is kind. My nostalgia tends to favour the recollections of freedom, my escape from the junior high school where I taught (or tried to teach), quiet stretches of coastal road, beach campsites, lovely expanses of twilit rice-paddy farmland...

It spares me reminders of the discomfort as my feet deteriorated, the sometimes stressful struggle to stay on less-travelled (and safer) rural roads rather than busy highways, the three or four cosmically awful nights camped on bus-stop floors or in muddy vacant lots. And I enjoy the memories of those miles of rusting barbed wire and cinder-block observation posts for their eerie weirdness, rather than the disquiet and aesthetic revulsion they often evoked.

I've spent the last week or more re-editing pictures from the walk, battling free-but-erratic public wifi to prepare a new gallery of the shots. I'm really happy with the results, and they reminded me of how much I loved that Sony NEX-5N and the Zeiss 24mm lens. That was pretty much my entire kit in those days - all the shots in the gallery were taken with it, except for the deer-warning sign picture (see below) which I took with my iPhone. 

Also, the full gallery is organised chronologically, and I've captioned it simply but in such a way that you can follow the basic narrative of the walk just by hovering over each image.

You can find it here.

Here's a short selection of freshly edited shots from the gallery. Cheers.

~山羊~

The starting point: Summer madness at Haeundae, where I began my journey north. Fortunately I quickly left this scene of horror far behind.

An hour or so north of Haeundae. Before long I was on roads for most of each day.

Songjeong Beach. I was shocked at how much garbage covered the sand. People ate, drank & dumped, then left it all for the old people to pick up. Again, I soon left most of this sort of behaviour behind.

The healing power of scorching sand. Not sure if the sun cancer message is getting through!

A fire-bellied toad as I descended a mountain at dawn. For the flip side of this amazing amphibian, see the gallery!

After a brief detour inland towards Gyeongju, I cowboy-camped beneath this surreal highway construction project at the base of the pillar on the left - & woke to find a sour-faced farm lady staring down at me.

Roadside lilies on the inland road. This was a beautiful stretch of farmland.

Koreans are fond of these awnings - they like to dine right there on the sand - & those inflatable rings you can see on the left.

I walked for half an hour right up this beach.

Back on the highway. I spent hours on numerous days trudging up roads like this in the baking heat of summer.

Towards nightfall, a view from the highway of a woman carrying a child along a long, straight farm road.

Another morning where I woke to local women gazing at me. But what a view to start the day.

None of us road-travellers make it through completely unscathed.

The further north I walked, the more my views of sandy beaches & rocky coastline were framed by barbed wire & dotted with observation posts. The posts seemed to have been abandoned, and the fences were often decaying & rusting.

An oncoming police car. I did feel conspicuous & perhaps looked dubious, but was never stopped or questioned.

Samcheok harbour in the rain. I stayed in a cheap hotel here that was largely deserted.

A mountain road, not long before one of the worst road tunnels I've ever walked through - long & with no pedestrian lane or protection of any kind.

Dawn in the Yanyang area. I loved the mornings, before the heat and traffic kicked in.

Beach umbrella sentinels. This was the same night & beach as the tattooed-surfer shot from the last post.

My final morning, nearing Sokcho. Soldiers patrol the beach beneath an ominous sky.

Demon Surfer: Dusk on a North Gyeongsang Beach, 2012

In my last post, I talked about my 13-day trek up several hundred kilometres of South Korean coast in 2012.

Here's another beach shot from that journey, one of my favourite images from my two years in Korea:

Gentle surf and quiet, placid stretches of coastline marked much of my journey north. As I moved closer to North Korea, though, the beaches were increasingly marred by decaying cinder-block pillboxes & rusting, barbed wire-entwined fences.

I'm a lousy note-taker and rely on my pictures to piece together the narrative of my big walks, especially when years have passed: this was taken on August 14, two days short of five years ago. My system does have its shortcomings, especially when there's no guidebook or paper maps adorned with scribbles (my back-ups for Japan walks) to jog the memory. For that reason I can't tell you the name of the beach offhand without some serious research, but it was a few days in and I was somewhere in Gyeongsangbuk-do - North Gyeongsang Province. I lived in South Gyeongsang Province, adjacent to the port city of Busan. I can tell you I took the picture at 7:56pm - summer days are long - and that this was one of the very rare occasions when I asked permission to take a stranger's picture. This was because I had to walk right up behind him to get the shot, and the politeness that makes street photography tough for me kicked in.

The surfer agreed after some hesitation - "Band [bandage]?" he asked, indicating his midriff - he was worried it would look bad in the shot. (Who knows what was under there - fresh tattoos?) It was a beautiful evening, and from memory I slept on the floor of a roadside bus stop that night - I spent two nights like that on the walk, both of them terrible. Road-walking into the early evening was magical most days, however, with the hot temperatures and the traffic easing off, the beaches quiet and serene.

My Settings

This was taken, again, with my Sony NEX5N and Zeiss f1.8 lens, at ISO 200, f5.6 and 1/80th of a second. I edited it with one of Nate Photographic's Kodachrome-inspired presets, and boosted the sky subtly in Nik Viveza.

~山羊~

Dawn Sun Worshippers, Sokcho, South Korea

Here's a freshly re-edited picture from my first year in South Korea, 2012. You might have noticed it right there in first position on my home-page portfolio, and it's also in my (as yet incompletely captioned) Korea: Coastal gallery:

One of those beautiful occasions when all the mobile elements in a composition position themselves perfectly & hold their poses long enough to get the shot!

It was taken on the chilly morning of October 2 after stealth-camping among some pines just south along the shore. I'd returned to Sokcho - not far below the border with North Korea, way up on the north-eastern coast - by bus from Busan a few days earlier. This time, I was there for some early-Autumn hiking in beautiful Seorak-San, the most dramatic and unspoiled swathe of mountains and forest I found in two years in Korea.

My first visit to the town, on my summer vacation from my teaching job, had been rather more arduous. I'd walked up the coast from Haeundae Beach, a 13-day journey, all of it on hard roads in the unrelenting sun. I had only the most primitive of maps and winged every single day. Spent one night on a kind stranger's office floor just north of Busan, and another in a hotel in the fishing town of Samcheok - all the rest were spent stealth-camping in sites of varying comfort/squalor. It was a fantastic journey that forced a reappraisal of the country that overall I did not find easy to live in. But the unforgiving road surface and the sand in my socks took their toll, and I could barely walk when I slumped into Sokcho.

On this second visit I was whisked north in one of Korea's super-efficient and cheap buses, covering in half a day of air-conditioned comfort what had taken almost a fortnight of slogging a few months prior. I had a blast over a couple of days hiking trails in Seorak-San, not far inland, that were ablaze with gold-and-crimson fall foliage, and spent one night sleeping on the ground at the summit of Daecheong-Bong (1,708m), Korea's third-highest peak, and a second in a mock-castle love hotel (sans love) in Sokcho; got the bus back to town after one day's hiking and walked it on another.

I re-edited this shot this morning using one of Nate Photographic's excellent Kodachrome-emulation presets. I captured the image with my Sony NEX 5N and fast Zeiss 24mm f1.8 prime lens. That lens changed everything for me. It cost way more than the camera and it's still probably my favourite lens. I ordered it online between lessons at the middle school I taught at in Gimhae, Korea - I still recall the thrill when a courier delivered it to my school midway through an afternoon lesson (I got slugged with a surprise customs charge!). I think the privilege of starting serious picture-making with higher-end glass almost from the beginning - I took dozens or even hundreds of shots every day for two years - helped guide my artistic development and vision in a formative way. 

I can only reiterate the oft-given gear advice to anyone getting hooked on photography: spend your money on a decent camera but the best lens you can afford!

~山羊~

 

In the Osprey's Talons: A Rare Meeting on the Brighton Waterfront

This was a great morning, pure gold in so many ways. It was the day before my birthday in the last week of June this year. I did a few long waterfront strolls around that time, starting a couple of hours before dawn and walking as far north as the mouth of the Pine River. Trouble is, I was taking so many shots in that period that I couldn't keep up with the editing workload. As so often happens, the unprocessed images got buried in a folder in my Lightroom library and I soon forgot about them, even with the delightful twist my journey took on the return leg. Last night I remembered and had to hunt them down. I spent the evening editing a small batch and here are some of my faves.

Brighton is the next waterfront suburb north of Sandgate. This fellow or others of his/her kind may well make regular visits there, but it was the first time I'd seen an osprey this close:

My first foray onto the groyne - damn those pesky seagulls!

It was mid-morning, bright and warm, with the tide in. I was ready for a nap but still half an hour from home. There's a series of stone groynes jutting out from the seawall and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was perched on the end of the last one before Sandgate. A small crowd of passing walkers and cyclists gathered - I guess this was a new experience for them as well. 

My longest lens (my Pentax 50-200mm) is still too short for "serious" birding, but luckily my style has evolved to complement my gear, and I'm well used to "zooming with my feet". I crept quite close along the groyne - the beautiful bird watching warily - till a fellow spectator, a young boy, approached a little too abruptly and the creature took to the air. I thought the show was over, but within seconds the raptor had curved around, briefly hovered, dropped to the water, extracted a huge fish (a mullet?) in its talons and dropped to the next groyne along the waterfront to do some extreme dining:

Pupil & teacher: Relocated to another groyne, the osprey begins the gruesome task of preparing breakfast, closely watched by an attentive gull.

Right around this time I met another photographer, Peggy from Clontarf, out for a bike ride. We both doubled back to continue stalking the bird while it dined, and ended up talking photography for at least another half-hour. All the while we were transfixed by the drama unfolding on the wall in front of us. I crept out onto the groyne again and got pretty close. That fish was still twitching well into its transformation from beast to menu item. The phrase red in tooth and claw came to mind more than once!

Ospreys are very fond of fresh sashimi.

"This is MINE. I did this!"

"This is MINE. I did this!"

I'd rather come back as an osprey than a mullet.

I'll finish with a compendium of fascinating osprey facts courtesy of my dear colleague Professor Wikipedia:

The osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply... It is found on all continents except Antarctica, although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant... It is unusual in that it is a single living species that occurs nearly worldwide. Even the few subspecies are not unequivocally separable... The osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the peregrine falcon... It has a large global population estimated at 460,000 individuals... Its diet consists almost exclusively of fish... The osprey and owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish... Ospreys usually mate for life.
— Wikipedia

Tricky light - bright, all that reflective water, and an unfortunately positioned sun - but good for shadows!

"Hold it right there, human. I dine alone."

~山羊~

Two Riders Were Approaching, the Wind Began to Howl

I spent a cold, white Winter in Cham, midway between Zürich and Lucerne in the German part of Switzerland, in late 2010 and very early 2011. Cham is a village near the northern edge of the Zugersee - Lake Zug - and a half-hour walk from the millionaire tax haven of Zug. I had a girlfriend of sorts who lived there, and my stay was an experiment to see if we worked as a couple and whether we could live together in her homeland (and home town) long-term. The experiment was an utter failure but - in terms of scenery, creative stimulation and my development as an artist - a spectacular one.

We realised quite early that we had absolutely nothing in common and didn't even really like each other that much. I still regret cutting short my Pacific Crest Trail walk at the Oregon-Washington border so I could fly to Europe. Without that beguiling promise of my first taste of Europe (still my only European experience) and the illusion of love, I'd probably have remained focused on the task at hand and continued for the 500 miles through Washington - reputedly the most scenic part of the PCT - to the Canadian border. But quitting the PCT a couple of thousand miles in to land in Switzerland is called landing on your feet!

With our relationship a certain failure and S____ working each day, I had lots of time to travel and practise with my new camera, a little Sony TX-5 point-and-shoot. Switzerland was where I realised that I wanted to learn the craft of photography and stop winging it. I still understood little about lighting and the technical aspects of picture-making, but I worked hard on composition and the artistic/expressive aspects. I walked every day in lots of medieval town centres - Zürich, Lucerne, Chur, St Gallen, Basel, Fribourg, Lugano - as well as through farmland, villages, around lakes and over moderate mountain trails. My fingers suffered constantly in the cold and just holding that icy metal to my face to compose a shot was often a challenge. Sometimes waves of depression and self-doubt nearly submerged me, till I'd sit down, utterly alone on some snow-carpeted path and ask myself What the hell are you doing? I had no idea what would come after Switzerland.

This pair of shots was taken on Christmas Day in Cham:

The riders come into view. That's a dairy farm in the distance.

The riders approach the wood. One thing I loved about Switzerland was the thousands of kilometres of walking trails. The alpine regions were off-limits for me in that season, but there are extensive trails through farmland like this.

I'd spent the evening before with S____ at her parents' house. They drank (and smoked) a lot, and in addition to wine, her father produced a bottle of grappa - whatever that is. We were feeling pretty shattered on Christmas morning but for some reason S____ accompanied me on a walk through the surrounding countryside in the bracing cold. It was a sort of tour of her childhood haunts. We didn't talk much and when I stopped for a picture, she kept going. I let her go. She had no patience for that kind of thing. Way too practical for my tastes.

Anyway, the riders. I suppose they were locals just out for a Christmas ramble despite the gloomy conditions. I still recall my excitement at the scene, the little voice telling me not to screw up as I quickly composed the image. I like the balance of visual weight: the little dark figures with the flash of red on the white background; the dark, looming shape of the wood with its hint of fairy-tale mystery. There's something a little Bruegelian about the scene, a timelessness. It's one of the most "European" images I've made, though I really hope I get a chance to make a lot more like this down the track.

Next time I explore Switzerland, though, it'll be in Summer!

~山羊~

Spread Your Wings & Dry: A Cabbage Tree Creek Morning

A recent morning on Cabbage Tree Creek, Deagon. This cormorant - we assume it's always the same one but who can tell? - is fond of resting and sunning itself on this post on the end of the backyard jetty:

He/she seems to be getting more tolerant of my intrusion into its personal space. In the past I had to shoot at full zoom from the backyard. This time I was able to edge up to just a few metres from the bird as it stretched, shuffling into the ideal spot to make use of that lovely early-morning golden side-lighting. The Boondall Wetlands is over on the right in the direction of the sunrise. The glow through the wing feathers makes the picture work for me.

I made this picture with my Pentax K3 and the 50-200mm lens. 

~山羊~

Highway 56 Revisited & Other Shikoku Flashbacks, 2015

The Backwards 88

Here are some recently re-tinkerered-with favourites from my first Shikoku Henro (Pilgrimage), the gyaku-uchi (reverse order) walk I did over 47 days (including rest days etc) in the late Summer/early Autumn of 2015. I began that journey by walking from temple #1 in Tokushima (where I had a weird/fun night getting drunk with the head priest) to temple #88 in Kagawa (despite the protestations of the female staff at #1 who were convinced I would be set upon by ghosts), then circled the island, with a lot of getting lost and backtracking, in an anti-clockwise loop.

It was possibly a mistake to do the walk - in either direction - at that time of year, as apart from the last week, the heat and humidity were sometimes debilitating. I never really suffered that badly, though - not from the weather anyway. The heat meant lots of solitude, which was my goal - Spring and Autumn are the favoured pilgrim seasons. Most of my suffering was mental, the low point being around two weeks in, on the only night I stayed in a temple (#60, Yokomine-ji, considered the Henro's most remote), when I learned via a Skype conversation with a former partner in a far-off land that I'd been replaced. I've seldom felt more alone - the rain and silence and remoteness didn't help - and came very close to quitting. I suppose the rest of the journey was one of healing, though that would be a misleading phrase, as I endured a lot of dark stuff in my head as I trudged on towards, er, enlightenment.

Anyway, I did it. Interestingly (for me at least), this year's return to the Henro in the Japanese Spring, which I did in the conventional direction (though I began and finished at temple #51 in Matsuyama), was relatively relaxed in terms of anguish, but more of a physical challenge. The walking, for someone who's done 2,000-plus-mile mountain journeys more than once, was not too hard, but I had issues with cracked heels, a thorn in one fingertip that swelled till it looked like E.T.'s and needed hospital treatment, and finally, blisters under the sole of each foot that slowed my pace to that of a drunken snail and forced me to bail a few days from the end (I returned and finished after recuperating at my friends' guesthouse in Matsuyama).

If I ever return to the Henro (and I've sworn that I won't...including following my first one), I'll probably do it in Autumn. The photography would be sublime and I think, just maybe, I'd finally have the place out of my system for good...

About the Photos

I've mixed up the order so they're not chronological. They were made with a Sony RX1 (which seldom left my wrist while walking), a Sony a7 and a Sony NEX5N with 16mm pancake lens and ultra-wide adaptor. No, I wasn't sponsored by Sony, though I really should have been. I've re-edited these shots in Lightroom, with some noise reduction in Topaz DeNoise and some styling with VSCO for a more "filmic" look. On average I spent 5-10 minutes on each one.

An Ehime road-sign - not far now till Kochi City! Route 56 is 300km long & connects Kochi with Matsuyama. For pilgrims this road is home for quite a while. It's mostly okay but can be noisy/annoying/treacherous in parts - especially the tunnels!

First through the tsunami barrier: I camped on a disused tennis court here near a couple of van-loads of surfers. This was in Kochi.

Sparrows on a wire: view from my campsite at dawn near Enko-ji, temple #39 & the final Kochi temple. I really like this part of the Henro.

Saying hi to a Henro from my bus-stop bench. I was resting here on a long, hot mountain walk. This was near Kumakogen, Ehime.

Give me a home among the tetrapods: a one-of-a-kind campsite near the tip of Cape Muroto, Kochi. I couldn't find anything better the evening before, but I knew there'd be a great shot waiting for me in the morning. I shared the site with a lonesome stray ginger cat.

Back into the earth we go: scene from the woods behind Sankaku-ji, temple #65, Ehime.

Snail & incense ash at Kokubun-ji, temple #59, Ehime. Each of the four Shikoku prefectures has a kokubun-ji or prefectural temple.

Discarded pilgrim staff on the mountain path to Yokomine-ji, Ehime. After my bad night in the temple described above, I descended via this path, sipping whisky before dawn after a sleepless night. This wasn't my stick. I find modern trekking poles far more practical.

An encounter with a stag beetle on a Kagawa road. This may in fact be a rhinoceros beetle or similar species. They're popular kids' pets in Japan. I was once bitten by one of these I foolishly picked up in my Tokyo apartment many years earlier. I was trying to impress a couple of visiting young women but the effort was wasted when I shrieked like a baby.

Shikoku is scarecrow country. I don't know why, but they're very common there. This was near Senyu-ji, temple #58, Ehime.

Late afternoon on a Kagawa country road. Kagawa Prefecture has a ton of pointy little mountains like this.

Highway overpass near Yokomine-ji, Ehime. I've had a traumatic experience on both visits to this temple. This year I got badly lost descending to this area at night. That mountain has it in for me.

Before dawn under a bridge near Iwamoto-ji, temple #37, Kochi. There were only two nights on my recent Henro when I camped in the same spot as in 2015. This was one. That's me & my Mont-Bell tent. This year during my Shimanto River side-trip I came down the river to temple #37 after leaving the Henro near temple #36. A brief visit to Iwamoto Temple, a night in this same spot & back to following the river to the sea.

A resting pilgrim in a roadside shelter, Cape Ashizuri, Kochi. I spent the night here in 2015 - this fellow and a few others stopped in to rest in the morning during their walk to the tip of the cape & temple #38. I stopped by again this year after getting lost the night before (sound familiar?) & stealth-camping beneath the eaves of a fishing-village shrine. The plus side was that I met two excellent young Frenchmen here this time around.

Smiling rice farmer, Tokushima. Near the end of my 2015 walk. I asked in primitive Japanese if I could take his picture & he exclaimed, "Okay!"

A verdant rice paddy beyond the temple gates, Mandara-ji, temple #72, Kagawa. Mandara is just the Japanese pronunciation of "mandala".

Crab on the sea-wall, Kochi. Kochi is crab country. Even on mountain roads, you often see scuttling crustaceans on the roadside.

Ozu Castle, Ehime. Dating from the late 16th/early 17th centuries in its present incarnation, it's visible from the road. I toured the castle on my first walk through Shikoku in 2009.

Snail & rhododendron blossom, Iwamoto-ji, temple #37, Kochi.

Kobo Daishi's very impractical footwear, Okubo-ji, temple #88, Kagawa.

First to rise in sleepy Iwamatsu, Ehime. One of the rare cats I encountered on the Henro that was friendly & approachable. I looked for him/her this year but no luck.

Henro graffiti on a mountain road. No, I didn't do it - it was scratched into moss on the embankment wall. The characters near my hand say henro.

Oncoming pilgrims on a stormy Kochi morning. I'd had a rough night at a michi-no-eki - a pair of golfing-holiday assholes stood outside my tent before dawn talking loudly while they waited for the weather to improve. It's times like that I wish I spoke Japanese well enough to abuse selfish idiots.

A rainy dawn on the 45km road-walk between temples #64 & #65, Ehime.

I don't know how anybody can do a long walk in jeans, but he seemed happy enough.

Dawn fisherman on the Kochi coast. This was the second place where I parked my sleeping bag in the same spot in 2015 & 2017.

Kobo Daishi's shadow, Tanema-ji, temple #34, Kochi. This was a hot afternoon on my approach to Kochi City.

Dusk on a mountain road, Ehime. This was the first day of my return to the Henro after resting a few days in Matsuyama following my ex-girlfriend trauma at Yokomine-ji. I slept in a very lonesome little hut in the woods in those mountains in the background.

Kissing Crows & a Magpie Sunburst

A few more bird pictures today, all made last night and this morning in the Sandgate area.

Walking home not long before sunset yesterday, I spied this pair of crows perched on powerlines near Sandgate Station:

A crow parent, presumably the mother, on the left, with her infant.

This is a popular hangout area for a big mob of local corvids. I love crows but am usually frustrated in my attempts to get decent pictures of them - they are famously wary of humans and make very temperamental models. (In fact during my recent stay in Tokyo I was attacked by a pair of extremely protective crows - and Japanese crows are big - when I got too close to their youngster in a park. Struck in the head by one bird, I was forced to beat a speedy retreat, lesson learned!)

This pair was different - they seemed unbothered by my approach. And even better, they were being extremely affectionate and attentive, and I soon realised they were parent and juvenile. I was delighted, considering the usually sinister, crafty portrayal of crows we're used to, to get some pictures of this sweet, dare I say loving side of corvine behaviour.

The crows are distracted from their grooming by a passing flock of ibis returning to their roosts.

I swear they were almost...kissing?

Approaching home, I realised I was being stalked by the male half of our main magpie couple:

Mr Magpie stalks me on my homebound walk just before dark.

He's far shier than his mate, and kept his distance, till I reached the driveway, where he skittered up behind me, accepted a few scraps of meat, loaded up four pieces in his beak and took them home.

This morning was chilly by Brisbane standards, and the grass in Curlew Park before dawn was coated in almost-frost. I hadn't intended any more bird photography, but had to kill half an hour before my cafe opened - then the local flock recognised me and swooped in just in time for another group portrait or two:

Another magical Curlew Park winter sunrise - welcome indeed for the local residents.

A brave juvenile & some older members of the tribe in dawn sunshine.

Half an hour well spent.

My Settings

All but the last pair were taken with the Pentax K3 and 50-200mm lens. The Curlew Park shots were made with my Sony NEX5N (with Japanese menu!) and cheap 16mm pancake lens with an ultra-wide adaptor. The crow shots were made at 200mm (on ASPC sensor = 350mm), at ISO 800, between f5.6 and f8, and the stalking magpie at 67.5mm (=135mm) & f11. The sunburst shot was made at ISO200, f20 (to produce the nice sunburst effect), and 1/25th of a second (I used a tripod). The final shot was handheld: 1/60th of a second, f8 at ISO800. All were processed quickly, with the final "look" created using official VSCO presets, except for the final pair, where I used presets purchased from Nate Photographic that emulate Kodachrome. I love this treatment on bright, warm sunrises and -sets.

~山羊~