Monday, December 17, 2012

'Wild Aotearoa'

For those in Christchurch, I have an exhibition up at the 'Green Room' cafe in Addington (39 Princess St, Addington). The images on display are a small selection of images from my 'Wild Aotearoa' collection which will be exhibited in 2013. If you get the chance, go and have a look, hopefully it will be open Monday - Friday for most of January!

A few months ago I made a Blurb book using the new Lightroom 4 for my grandpa's birthday. My grandpa is my number one fan, and takes a great interest in my photography and has always been a great influence and friend to me! Click on the link below to view my book 'Wild Aotearoa'... Its free :)


What is it that drives or motivates you to pick up your camera? Is it the anticipation of capturing that 'perfect shot', is it your club's next competition, is it a way of expressing yourself or an outlet for your creativity, is it a way of documenting and sharing your interests, experiences and everyday life or is it all of the above? There are many reasons we pick up our cameras and it is a question that I constantly ask myself.

My photography has always been an extension of my passion for nature and in particular wildlife, and my motivation to understand and learn more about wildlife keeps me behind the lens. This is something I always remind myself of as I feel that sometimes we can put unneeded pressure on ourselves to capture that perfect image, something out of the ordinary, something different, something 'sellable', and this added pressure can take the joy out of our photography. Often our biggest pressures can come from ourselves... where we can get discouraged if we don't come back with the images we envisaged or lived up to our expectations. I believe that often our best photography is created when we are enjoying ourselves and following our passions, this is when we can be our most creative!

What's is your passion? What excites you? I believe that if we incorporate our interests and passions into our photography it shows... Our love for our subject will shine through! If we photograph what we are passionate about we will be more motivated to get behind the camera and freely pour our time into capturing our subjects the best we can. It is often said that the best photographers are passionate ones... it certainly makes it easier to get out of bed early on cold winters mornings!

Tomorrow I head for Australia, a chance to catch up with the family over the Christmas and new year period, something I'm really looking forward to! This will also give me the opportunity to get behind my camera and just enjoy photography for the love of it! No pressures or expectations... watch out Australian birds!!! Keep an eye out for some new images to come!

I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a great new year!!! I hope that all you photographers out there follow your passions and  have a fantastic time making pictures in 2013... most importantly have fun!!!


In July this year the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand hosted the 2012 Trenna Packer Salver competition once again. This year the competition was open to all photography clubs and societies in New Zealand. It was great to recieve this year's 'champion image' for my 'Hooker Sea Lions - Phocarctos hookeri - sparring' image (shown below)! What an honour :)

In September this year I led a trip for the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand ( to Kaikoura. We had a fantastic time photographing dolphins, albatross, seals and of course birds :) Here are a couple of images of one of my favourite NZ birds, the reef heron (Egretta sacra) photographed on the Kaikoura Peninsula.

Above: Friend, Keith Walter photographs a Kaikoura sunrise
Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I recently attended PSNZ's National Convention in Invercargill, Southland. A big thanks once again to the Ronald Woolf Memorial Trust for helping fund my trip!!! I had a fantastic time meeting fellow photographers from all over New Zealand and Australia, it was great to put faces to names, join in on some great tutorials, workshops, field trips and spend time listening to some inspiring speakers. It was really enjoyable being able to immerse myself in photography in such a wonderfully warm and friendly environment.

The convention also gave me a good opportunity to explore the Southland area. I gave myself a few days either side of the convention to photograph the wildlife in and around the Catlins coast. The Catlins is an area of unspoilt beauty and home to numerous species of marine life due to the nutrient rich waters. I particularly wanted to concentrate on two rare marine species the yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) and the New Zealand sea lion (hookers sea lion).

|  Rough seas, Curio Bay, Southland  |

I love photographing penguins and the yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho were the first stop on my Southland adventure, I had a fantastic time photographing the yellow-eyes and it was great being able to spend some time with the rarest penguin in the world. I arrived in the small coastal township of Moeraki mid-afternoon after the drive from Christchurch and I was really looking forward to getting out of the car and exercising my legs and shutter finger :) As with many penguins species, their loud shrill-like calls alerted me to their presence before getting a sighting, in fact their Māori name, hoiho means 'noise shouter'. Moeraki has great access to the penguins, although the area is heavily fenced off due to the many penguin nesting sites! Fortunately the penguins don't stick within the fences and roam about freely allowing for some great interaction and photographic opportunities. Although the fencing can be a little frustrating for a photographer, the fence's importance was reinforced when I witnessed three tourists literally chase a highly stressed penguin around in hope of getting a snapshot standing next to the poor bird!!! Not all people unfortunately put the welfare of the penguins above a photograph.    

Yellow-eyed penguins are unique to New Zealand and found scattered along the south-east of the South Island. I gave myself a few days after the convention to photograph the yellow-eyed penguins in the Catlins, although I found myself hunkered down for the majority of the time in a little old caravan sheltering from the gale force winds, antarctic wind blasts and downpours of hail, which made a deafening noise against the roof of the caravan - a real glimpse of Southland's dark side! The winds did whip up some impressive swells and I was able to get out in between hail storms and photograph the power of the ocean! It amazes me the swells that the yellow-eyed penguins go out in, and even though they can seem a little clumsy on land, they are the most powerful swimmers!     

|  Surat Bay, Southland  |

Photographing large mammals such as sea lions challenged me in terms of composition; how I fill the frame with my relatively small avian subjects was quite different to how I positioned an adult sea lion. I also found that being at the whim of a 400kg bull sea lion's unpredictable temperament definitely made me more aware of my surroundings. I found the sea lions relatively placid even though I was mock charged a couple of times, especially when testosterone was flying during a play flight or spar. On one occasion I was laying in the sand photographing a female on the Northern end of Surat Bay, there were no other sea lions visible, and I happily spent some time behind the camera confident that there were no other sea lions around. As I snapped away I was unaware of a bull sea lion which was bounding toward me, it must have been sleeping in the high dunes behind the beach... I was alerted by the vibrations in the sand and I can honestly say I don't think I've ever ran so fast - I definitely didn't let my guard down after that, even though probably a playful gesture - I don't think I could handle a sea lion's rough play :) 

|  What you looking at?, Cannibal Bay  |

New Zealand sea lions or Hooker's sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) are now listed as "nationally critical" and are the world's rarest sea lion. This is the highest threat category in New Zealand and puts them in the same category as the kakapo and Maui’s dolphin! Any species that has undergone a greater than 70% population decline over a period of less than three generations is considered “nationally critical”. Hunting of the sea lions drove them from the NZ mainland approximately 200 years ago, although in the last few years they have slowly made a comeback and there are roughly 150 based on the New Zealand mainland. In 1993 a wonderful thing happened in the small village of Taieri Mouth on the Otago Coast! A solitary female came ashore and gave birth to pup on a local farm, this is believed to be the first pup born on the NZ mainland in over 200 years! Currently the greatest impacts on sea lions are through fisheries by-catch and disease, every year New Zealand sea lions drown due to incidental entanglement in a number of fisheries. Their limited breeding range makes them vulnerable to disease and there have been three mass epidemics of disease over the last 7 years. A Department of Conservation study says that NZ sea lions could be extinct in the next 24 years if there are not tighter restrictions on squid fishing.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kingfisher Video & Recent Images

What a good but hectic last few weeks! This time was filled with preparation for this week when I judged a photography competition on Tuesday and gave a talk to the Christchurch Photographic Society on Wednesday!

It was great to judge the New Brighton Photographic Club's natural history competition - it was a mammoth task, commenting on and critiquing 85 images!! Not having much competition background I found that it was a great experience for me. I feel that we all learn from critiquing other's work and I feel it can help us along in our own photographic journeys. We all do it don’t we, often subconsciously… whether it be here online or when we look through magazines or newspapers etc., we find ourselves taking things we like from an image and perhaps thinking about what we would do differently. I feel it’s always a good thing to critique our own work, to take a self-check… we are often our own harshest critics, and I believe that this can be a good thing. Judging gave me a good chance to sit down and think about what makes a good natural history image, what works and what doesn’t. I feel that a good natural history image should be one that captures our immediate attention but also should call for further investigation. We shouldn’t judge ourselves strictly on whether we follow the 'rules' of photography, such as the rule of thirds etc… because photography is open to interpretation and we, as artists, as photographers, portray a scene the way we see it. These rules can often be very helpful in making pleasing images, although we shouldn’t be governed by them. For it’s often when we step outside the box, dare to be different and 'break the rules' that we  make dramatic compositions and create something that is unique!  

I had a great time last night talking to the Christchurch Photographic Society! It was great to be able to share some images with such a welcoming and friendly bunch of photographers. As part of my preparation for the talk  I've spent some time back in the hide in search of some new kingfisher footage to introduce the use of hides in bird photography (the new clip is seen here below, best viewed in HD). Preparing for the talk was a good chance to review some of my photos which I haven't had time to edit in the last few months... I found it fun to rediscover images from some of my recent photographic adventures! Some of those images are shown below... 

I recently won the Ronald Woolf Memorial Scholarship to attend the Photographic Society of New Zealand's National Convention which is held in Invercargill. At the end of this month I will going on a photography trip down to the very south of the South Island of New Zealand. I hope to capture the dramatic colours of New Zealand's Autumn and the amazing wildlife that call the Catlins home! I am really looking forward to meeting photographers from all over the country!!!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Suspected avian botulism outbreak in Christchurch
Toll reaches over 4300

Over the past month there has been a dramatic decrease in Christchurch’s birdlife. The Avon/Heathcote Estuary and Bromley area has suffered a real loss of more than 10 per cent of the area’s bird population; a devastating blow to one of the country’s top ten sites for wetland birds. Over 4300 dead birds have been collected in the area; this number surpasses the death toll of the Rena oil spill last year. 

  White-faced heron (9.61% of population killed)

Immediately following February’s earthquake large volumes of untreated wastewater were discharged into the lower Avon and Heathcote Rivers as well as the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. 

A bird survey taken last year, a week after the February quake showed surprisingly that there were approximately 5000 more birds on the Estuary than the previous year (before the quakes), and initial fears that there would be nothing left on the Estuary due to liquefaction were quelled. The initial influx in bird numbers directly after the quake could have been due to birds flocking to the area as ‘quake refugees’.

You only have to look at the estuary and the effects of the quakes are immediately evident - the estuary is now a physically different place. The northern part of the estuary (Avon River mouth) has subsided by 0.2 - 0.5 metres from its previous level and the Southern part (Heathcote River mouth) has risen by 0.3 – 0.5 metres. According to a NIWA report there is an average elevation rise of 0.14 metres which is enough elevation to keep a million cubic metres (400 Olympic-sized swimming pools) of water from flowing in and out of the estuary, that’s one-sixth of its original flow. 

I remember being struck by the amount of liquefaction on the estuary after the February earthquake. Some parts of the estuary resembled the surface of the moon, with large crater like liquefaction mounds covering the mudflats for kilometres! NIWA estimate that up to 40 per cent of the estuary was covered by liquefaction mounds after February! Liquefaction has the potential to smother estuarine biota and I’ve noticed a dramatic reduction in epifauna especially mudsnails and mudcrabs. Crab burrows once covered much of the Avon/Heathcote estuary and there has been a visible reduction of these burrows due to liquefaction cover at my bird photography sites. Mud crabs are an important food source for birds like the kingfishers and herons and there has been a noticeable reduction in kingfishers and herons at these once popular feeding spots.   
A NZ Kingfisher with a mudcrab, epifauna such as mudcrabs have lost habitat due to liquefaction

On the 9th of February an article in The Press expressed its concern with the finding of 600-800 dead birds around the Christchurch estuary, in particular Bromley oxidation ponds and the eastern wetlands area. According to council ornithologist Andrew Crossland the deaths are more to do with the fluctuating water levels and the changes in water quality due to the earthquakes. Over the weekend another article reported that the death toll now is above 4300 birds! The fatalities are thought to be a result of a suspected avian botulism outbreak due to an increase in sewage levels. The Council is working with the Department of Conservation, vets at Massey University, Ministry of Agriculture and Fish & Game to determine the cause of deaths.

The worst affected species are the paradise shelducks, which lost more than 85 per cent of their population (1415 birds), the mallard/grey ducks (49 per cent or 385 birds), and the grey teal (13 per cent or 495 birds), NZ scaup (8.54 per cent), NZ shoveler (3.5 per cent). These staggering numbers mean that there will be a substantial decrease in numbers around the estuary and Bromley, as well as at source areas and migration/dispersal destinations. Duck species are not the only ones that have suffered losses - white-faced herons, royal spoonbills, black-backed gulls and the endangered black-billed gulls, just to name a few, although these species' populations should recover in one to three years. In yesterday’s Press there was a photo of a royal spoonbill being rescued by a DOC officer, suspected of having avian botulism. Providing mildly affected birds with fresh water, shade and protection from predators may help them recover from the intoxication. 

  Male paradise shelduck (85.34% of population killed)
 Mallard (49.18% of population killed)

 Grey teal (13.33% of population killed)

 NZ Scaup (8.54% of population killed)

Avian botulism is a paralytic disease caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria require warm temperatures, a protein source and an anaerobic environment to produce the toxin, and the increased sewage levels due to the earthquakes may have been responsible for aiding in this intoxication. Birds can either ingest the toxin directly or feed on invertebrates such as maggots containing the toxin. Invertebrates are not affected by the toxin but store it up in their bodies. The spread of avian botulism happens when maggots feed on animal carcasses and ingest the toxin, birds that consume toxin-laden maggots can develop botulism after eating as few as 3 or 4 maggots, therefore the swift removal of dead birds will help minimise the spread of the disease. 

 NZ shoveler (3.50% of population killed)

Further facts about avian botulism :-
  •          A paralysing, often fatal disease that is caused by a botulism bacterium.
  •         Birds suffering from the toxin will have sluggish movements, and will struggle to use their wings, raise their heads or feed as it affects the nervous system.
  •      Avian botulism cannot be transferred to humans.

The good news is that the numbers of dead birds being found is slowly decreasing. Regardless of the cause of mass deaths let’s hope that this decline in deaths will continue and that Christchurch will still remain one of the top ten national sites for wetland birds!

 South island pied oystercatcher (0.09% of population killed)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Holiday Happenings...

I’ve recently returned from three weeks in Queensland, Australia, visiting family and friends. I had a great time back in the ‘mother land’, and spent a great time on the coast fishing, relaxing and soaking up the good old Queensland heat! Although the purpose of this trip was time to spend with the family I couldn’t help take my camera equipment in case a photo opportunity showed itself.

Every morning started with the deafening song of the rainbow lorikeets and crows which seemed to take the lead vocals in the dawn chorus. I am always amazed when I return home at the variety of Australian birds – you only have to compare the Australian and New Zealand bird field guides to notice the big difference in species diversity. I found myself constantly referring to my Australian bird book as I saw and photographed unfamiliar species of bird – very exciting for a wildlife nut like me :) 

My uncle who works as a groundsman at a local school told me of a pair of bush stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) who had been nesting on the school ground for the last few years. Naturally I had to take my camera and see these amazing birds for myself! These lanky legged birds were hard to spot at first as both birds were ‘frozen’, lying stick-like flat against the bush floor with their long necks extended. It was quite comical to watch these shy birds as they lay deathly still at my feet in hope that I hadn’t spotted them. As I walked along the section of bush I was startled when one of the birds appeared behind me and started ‘growling/hissing’, the sound resembled a hissing angry cat! WOW it was actually intimidating as the stone-curlew stood tall as can be making these weird aggressive sounds! This could only mean one thing; I thought to myself, there must be eggs or a chick nearby! What timing! I had a quick look around the immediate area and found two well camouflaged ‘dark-brown blotchy’ eggs which sat on the bare ground. Not wanting to cause any stress on the two birds I quickly took a couple of snaps and left them to their two well hidden eggs. 

I returned a couple of weeks later to check on the pair and their eggs; I was really excited to find and photograph an adult bird and a small curlew chick!!! Sadly, one of the school grounds staff had found a dead adult curlew on the playing field that very morning – a victim to a fox or cat attack! I only hope that the remaining adult and chick will survive!!

Ten days of my trip were spent on the sunshine coast at a place called Buderim, where I spent time exploring the beautiful coastline around Maroochydore, Mooloolaba and Noosa as well as the hinterland behind the sunshine coast at places like Eumundi, Montville etc. I was amazed at the birdlife present, in particular the species of egrets and herons. One thing that really drew my attention was the frogs and lizards! One thing that the South Island of New Zealand doesn’t have too many of!! 

These are a few snapshots from my Australian holidays. Being there on holidays didn’t give me enough time to get a feel photographically for the place, although it did whet my appetite for a return photo trip sometime in the future :)

At the moment I am working with a designer friend on getting a 'Jonathan Harrod Photography' website up and running. which is very exciting for me! Thanks for stopping by!