Thursday, December 1, 2011

In late October a friend and I set off for South Westland, an area famous for its dramatic coastline, sweeping beaches, rugged cliff tops, spectacular glaciers, and amazing wildlife! South Westland is so grand, that UNESCO declared it as important as the Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef, Mt Everest and other global natural treasures as it is holds natural and cultural features of world significance, and is now protected for perpetuity.

This is a part of the country so wild and undisturbed that the town of Haast was not linked by road to the rest of the West Coast until 1965! Haast was our base for five days and from there we ventured out in search of the varied wildlife that South Westland has to offer. Spending a little over week in South Westland in this wild part of the country was amazing! The wildness of the place was infectious and the bush lit up with the choir of native bird song! I couldn’t help closing my eyes thinking this is what pre-European New Zealand would have sounded like. I was excited to see Australasian bittern, fernbirds and a NZ falcon! But I would have to say that spending time with the penguins was the highlight of the trip!!

| Theo on the trail for penguins |

I absolutely love photographing penguins! I find that they are so full of character and very photogenic! I’ve photographed little blue, white-flippered and yellow-eyed penguins before, but I had never seen, let alone photographed, the fiordland crested penguins (Tawaki). Setting aside a week to photograph these amazingly beautiful penguins was fantastic and even though it rained for a few days I still was able to get some good days of photography in.

The first couple of days we were there it bucketed down in true West Coast fashion and we took the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing. We spent some time exploring the bush around Jackson Bay where I found myself following fantails throughout the thick bush where the canopy was providing some temporary relief from the rain. Jackson Bay has an interesting history full of hardship and grief… In the 1870s a population of 400 people (many Germans, Poles & Italians), were recruited to establish a settlement at Jackson Bay. Conditions were harsh and within 5 years the population declined to near 50 people, largely due to illness and accident; taming the landscape proved difficult if not impossible and fraught with grief and hardship!

I had a major scare with my camera on the first day of photographing the penguins!!!! Due to the difference in temperature and moisture from the previous day photographing in the wet bush around Jackson Bay and the now sunny warm beach weather my camera and lens totally fogged up – full of condensation! The top and back LCD screens, as well as the large front element of my telephoto lens, were completely fogged up! Auto focus didn’t work and all I could see through the viewfinder was a white! My heart stopped as I thought that could be the end of my trip before it even started, although after a couple of hours sitting in the sun the condensation slowing disappeared….phew! And I was able to capture the penguins as they entered and exited the ocean in order to feed their rapidly growing chicks.               

| Preening on the beach is common and indulged in quite intensively after they return to land |

The last day proved to be my favourite day as I was able to capture the intimacy between a pair of penguins as they preened one another and showed an amazing amount of tenderness and affection towards one another. AMAZING!

| Allopreening (preening each other) can be preformed between partners, and serves to strengthen the bond between partners |

Hope you enjoy the photos

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'The Coast'

For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my time on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I’ve lived on the East Coast for almost four years now and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to venture over to the West (as it only takes 3hrs to drive to from Christchurch).  I was properly introduced to the ‘The Coast’ last month while giving a talk to the Greymouth Photography Club…  Big thanks to Nicki Mora, Elizabeth Passuello, Stuart Nimmo & John Reid for their wonderful hospitality and introducing me to the fantastic opportunities that the coast has to offer … check out their amazing photography! 

I decided to spend a few days before and after my talk photographing the birds on the West Coast. The West Coast of New Zealand is a wild place of rivers, untouched native forests and a dramatic untamed coastline all surrounded by snow-capped mountains! A truly magical place for photography! Click on the images below for a larger size...

The weather forecast for the week was looking pretty grim as I packed my bags for the coast... 7 days of rain and cloud ahead! 

I left on Friday after work; in just enough time to photograph the kea at Arthurs Pass National Park (a must stop on the way over). It was great spending some time with these cheeky alpine parrots, although keeping them from pulling your vehicle and camera gear apart is a full time job! I was a bit worried when a kea flew from my car holding a large piece of plastic in it's beak... I've still got no idea where it pulled it from (my car still works which is the main thing!). See photo to the right.

I spent the Saturday photographing spotted shags in between the downpours and high winds in Wesport. The spotted shags look fantastic at this time of year in their breeding plumage with stunning colouration around their eyes, white filo-plumes and awesome double mohawks! 

On the Monday Nicki, Elizabeth and I spent a few hours in search of tomtits in the bush. The tomtits remained quite scarce offering us a quick sighting every now and then... although the fantails proved to be more obliging. We were getting  eaten alive by sandflies when photographing this particular fantail (below) which was only too happy to stick around and eat the sandflies eating us.

Up to now the weather had been beautiful even though the weather report still was forecasting bleak weather! I'm increasingly suspicious that the locals ('coasters') deliberately forecast terrible weather to keep the tourists away :)

On my last full day on 'The Coast' (Wednesday) Nicki and I decided to head down to Okarito Lagoon. The Weather report was still forecasting heavy rain (Although I was beginning to 'catch on' that the weather report couldn't be trusted). 

We woke up at 4:30am as Okarito was a good 2hrs drive away and we wanted to be there for the early morning light! We woke up to drizzly rain (I was thinking to myself 'what a day for them to get the forecast right!!!') but being the optimistic wildlife photographers we are, we threw the gear into the car, had a much needed coffee and hit the road. 

As we pulled into Okarito the early sun started to peek through the clouds, creating spectacular light for photography! It was going to be a beautiful day! Not long after pulling the car over we noticed a brutal fight between two male paradise ducks was taking place over a female (notice the female watching in the background in the photo below)! I've never seen a more intense fight between two ducks and it went for well over ten minutes... the two ducks were locked shoulder to shoulder as they violently flapped and splashed oblivious to our presence! It was amazing to watch the drama unfold right in front of our eyes, with the victor getting the girl and chasing the losing male away (his head lowered in a submissive manner) to lick his wounds. What an amazing start to the day... definitely a 'high 5 moment'!!!

Next we headed down to the mouth of the lagoon to photograph banded dotterels that use this particular beach to nest at this time of year. It didn't take long to find our first nest when looking for the tell-tale signs such as the broken wing display (Right) where the adult bird fakes a broken wing to take attention from its nest site... it always amazes me the choices these little dotterels make for their nest sites as they always seem to be near areas heavily used by 4WD's! It was good to see a young chick. (Below: Banded dotterel chick, Lake Ellesmere).

After photographing the dotterels we decided to explore another spot further around the lagoon. As soon as we got out of the car we noticed two welcome swallows sitting beside a mud pool at the side of the road collecting mud to build their nests... we laid ourselves next to the mud (looking like crazy people to all those that walked and drove by) and photographed these awesome little birds as they repeatedly flew in a filled their beaks with mud! What a great day full of photographic opportunities!!!

I’ve just come back from a week of photographing penguins in South Westland but more about that in my next blog!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I can always tell when Spring is here because a pair of mallard ducks start knocking at my door... every Spring without fail the pair arrive on our front deck and tap on our glass sliding door wanting a feed. Spring is finally here!!! and the breeding, nesting and hatching has begun! What a wonderful time of year for a wildlife photographer. Amongst the earthquake rubble the daffodils are in full flower and our city is being transformed by Spring's vivid colours!

| Above: A pied shag with stunning breeding colours |

Lately I've been busily trying to get my images organised and I've spent the last few weeks editing and sorting through a huge number of photos... and I can happily say that I'm almost done (phew!). I always prefer to be out with the camera rather than behind a computer, although I find it interesting going through old pictures and re-discovering photos and trips again.

It's been great doing talks for photography clubs and societies... and I had a wonderful time talking to the New Brighton Photography Club on Tuesday night - what a good bunch of people! I'm looking forward to meeting and talking to the members of the Greymouth Photography Club next month and spending some time photographing some of the birds on the west coast!

 | Above & Below: The endemic Black-fronted tern |

Last Friday night a friend and I threw our kayaks on the car and headed up the coast to a place called Kaikoura to spend the weekend kayaking around the peninsula. There is always something special about kayaking around the peninsula and we were treated by some great weather, some fantastic views and great wildlife like the New Zealand fur seals. 

A special moment for me was when a reef heron flew directly over our kayaks and landed on the rock platform a few metres away. The photos below are  some of the photos of the reef heron (Egretta sacra) feeding... what a buzz considering that these secretive herons are not a common sighting in New Zealand, especially in the south island.


| Above: A banded dotterel strolls amongst the weed on the Kaikoura Peninsula |

| Above: A New Zealand dotterel preening | Below: Shag Pile, Christchurch |

It's been fantastic to have the very talented Karen Neal use some of my photos as references for her wonderful wildlife paintings. I received a print of the wonderful kingfisher painting 'Gone Fishing' recently... go check out her work!

Friday, August 5, 2011


My trusty old Nikon D80 was finally able to retire on Tuesday! After taking well over 200,000 shots and enduring countless hours of sand blasting, rain showers and all sorts of abuse it was able to take a well-earned break and become my back-up camera to my new Nikon D300s ... well that's what the plan was until yesterday morning...

I was photographing black-fronted terns yesterday morning and really enjoying the fast focus and frames per second (fps) of my new camera when the shutter release button decided to seize up on me!!! I've had the camera for three days and it's already in the shop for repairs!! We'll the trusty old D80 has been brought out of retirement until the D300s is fixed (luckily under warranty)!  

The photo above is of a few of the bar-tailed godwits which have decided to stay here in Christchurch for the winter and earthquakes (brave birds) instead of migrating to Alaska for the summer. The photo to the left is of a juvenile little pied shag drying its wings.

The series below is of the two species of oystercatchers found here in New Zealand, the South Island Pied Oystercatcher (SIPO) and the endemic Variable Oystercatcher.

The South Island pied oystercatchers (Haematopus finschi) unlike their variable cousins breed inland along rivers, lakes and cultivated land; sometimes as far inland as the Southern Alps. In winter the birds congregate on the coast and can be found throughout New Zealand.

Variable oystercatchers (Haematopus unicolor) breed throughout New Zealand and nest on the coast usually in between rocks or on sand dunes (see the eggs in the photo below). Variable oystercatchers are predominantly black in colour, although their frontal plumage can range from solid black to pied. They can be identified as they are slightly larger than SIPOs.

South Island Pied Oystercatchers approach their high tide roost on the Avon/Heathcote Estuary.

South Island Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus finschi)  

A juvenile SIPO searches for food on the mud flats of the Avon/Heathcote Estuary

Above and below: variable oystercatchers defend their territory from rival pairs

Its amazing to watch oystercatchers find, probe and open mussels and cockles in one swift motion, and the ease at which they pull chitons from the rocks is amazing - those things dont come off easily!!

eft: Variable Oystercatcher eggs

* A big thanks to the guys at Photo & Video for having me as their guest photographer last month!

* And thanks to David Streeten from StreetwiseDesign for featuring me on his bulletin board !

I cant wait to get my new camera back!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


As well as kingfishers, black-fronted terns (Above) are also common visitors to the coast during the colder months, So lately I've found myself venturing to one of my favourite spots just out of Christchurch to photograph these handsome little birds. I got up early yesterday morning to continue my quest in capturing the terns, It was a beautiful day with soft Autumn lighting, and I spent the best part of the morning crawling after a group of roosting terns who would scatter every now and then as a dog or walker would venture to close to the resting flock. Keep an eye out for a black-fronted tern post!! I managed to see a white-winged black tern which was a first for me (uncommon Asian migrant)! 

On the way back from photographing the terns I was reacquainted with an old friend, a black stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae (above), who I've been photographing in this area on and off for the past few years. Black stilts are endemic to New Zealand and are still considered the world's rarest wading bird!!! There were only 23 black stilts left in 1981. So it was a real pleasure to spend time photographing this beautiful bird who has been hanging out with it's more common cousins, pied stilts (below). Thanks to intensive management numbers are on the increase, according to a February 2010 estimate there was 85 black stilts in the wild.

                                                                                                                                      Female blackbird

                                          Young mallard ducklings follow each other over the Lilly pads

                                                                                                     Male California quail

                                                                                                                                           Male Bellbird 

                                                                                   Little blue penguin, Kaikoura, NZ

Shag Rock, one Christchurch's iconic natural formations will never be the same after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which hit here on February the 22nd 2011. The photo on the right is what shag rock looked like before the quake and below are photos of Shag Rock now (Shag Pile)... I think it still has some charm and almost looks like a giant hand pushing up through the rubble (if you look hard enough)...