Best Wildlife Photography Locations in Australia: Lord Howe Island – NSW

Best Wildlife Photography Locations in Australia: Lord Howe Island – NSW

Lord Howe Island Woodhen

Lord Howe Island is a small island off the east coast of Australia. It is officially a part of New South Wales and can be accessed by flying from either Sydney or Brisbane. It is, without a doubt, one of my favourite locations in Australia to visit with my camera. The air is clean, there are few cars and the island limits the number of visitors that can visit at one time.

Recently, there was a multi-million dollar vermin eradication program implemented, which will help the local birds and wildlife thrive. Birds are plentiful on Lord Howe Island. The truly angelic White Terns hover above your head around the island, making it quite easy to get shots of them in flight. Sooty Terns nest by the tens of thousands in spring (Australian spring), so depending on when you travel, you will see countless birds nesting right in front of you on the beach, either sitting on eggs or looking after their fluffy chicks.

The most famous bird on the island is the lord Howe Island Woodhen. This bird is only found on Lord Howe Island and nowhere else on earth! At one stage, there were only 30 or so birds left in the world, whereas nowadays there are an estimated 300+ individuals. The Lord Howe Island Woodhen can be seen frequently foraging on the ground around the island and they are quite used to people. Join me on my next photography tour to Lord Howe Island and there is a good chance we will spot some!

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Five Macro Photography Tips and Techniques

Five Macro Photography Tips and Techniques


Photographing the ‘tiny things’ in the natural world can be both enjoyable and rewarding. Below are some tips and techniques that will help you achieve better macro photos.

1. Dedicated Macro Lens

If you love your macro photography, using a macro lens is always preferable. Whether your lens has focal length of 50mm, 200ml or anything in between, a dedicated macro lens allows for closer focusing and incredibly sharp images. Yes, some zoom lenses have a ‘macro’ setting but they aren’t true macro lenses.

There isn’t a perfect focal length for a macro lens. The most popular focal lengths seem to be between 60 mmto 100mm. Lenses with a focal length of 180 or 200mm macro lens are a tad heavier to use and don’t have as close a minimum focal length as the smaller sizes. One advantage , however, is that you are able to focus further away, which can have its advantages when photographing insects such as dragonflies or butterflies which can be a bit kittish when approaching them too close.

2. Extension Tubes

Using extension tubes with SLR or Mirrorless cameras allow for much closer focusing to your macro subjects (they fit in between the camera and lens). The downside is that depth of field becomes a real issue and even at an aperture of f22, only a fraction of your close-up image will be in focus. Generally, extension tubes are best when using a tripod, as this allows for greater stability. Hand holding a lens with an extension tube can be quite tricky since adding them reduces your aperture size and therefore decreases your shutter speed.

3. Macro Flash

By using a macro or ring flash attached to your lens negates the use of a tripod, especially in low light scenarios. You are, quite simply, carrying around your own light source. Using a flash has the advantage of you being able to capture insects such as bees buzzing over a flower, which a slower shutter speed will struggle to capture in poor light. Also, for insects that fly or move, the fact that you aren’t connected to a tripod means you have much more flexibility focusing on the moving subject.

Apart from using a macro flash, there are also numerous macro lights available on the market. Rather than a flash being fired when you take a shot, a macro light uses a continuous light source that usually can be adjusted according to the amount of light you require on your subject.

4. Using a Diffuser

Sometimes when you head on out with your camera with the aim of photographing plants, insects, fungi or frogs, lighting may be harsh. There are ways of reducing your exposure in-camera but harsh lighting can create unsightly images, especially if the subject is shiny and reflective, or white and yellow. By setting up on a tripod and using a portable hand-held diffuser between your intended subject and the lens, this creates much smoother lighting. Sure, photographing during overcast weather is ideal, but we can’t choose what mother nature will do! I have often gone out to shoot macro subjects on an overcast day when the lighting is sublime, only to have the clouds replaced by harsh sunlight!

5. Watch Your Background

I regularly see beautiful macro shots posted, including insects, plants or wildlife such as geckoes or frogs. Unfortunately, some of these images are ruined by unsightly twigs, grasses or overblown leaves in the background. Photographers are often so into getting the perfect exposure or composition of their intended subject(s) that they are oblivious to the distracting background which only show up once the images are downloaded and viewed on a computer.

Overall, I encourage you to get on out there and experiment with different subjects, lighting conditions and compositions. The more you practise, the easier macro photography becomes and the process can be loads of fun : -))

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Walking on Water: Just One of the Jacana’s Many Unusual Behaviours

Walking on Water: Just One of the Jacana’s Many Unusual Behaviours

Comb-crested Jacana stepping across a gap in the lily pads on a lake in Australia

The comb-crested Jacana’s extremely long toes help it to spread its body weight over a larger area. The comb changes colour, brightening during the breeding season and when taking on rivals.

AUSTRALIA IS HOME to one of the world’s eight jacana species—the Comb-crested Jacana—also known as the Lily-trotter, Lotusbird, Jesusbird or Christbird, the latter typically irreverent Australian names for a bird that appears to ‘walk on water’.

The jacana is found throughout coastal and near-coastal northern and eastern Australia, from about Derby in the west to Sydney in the east. I have observed it at numerous locations including wetlands near Byron Bay, New South Wales; the Nerang River and Beaudesert, south-east Queensland; and Yellow Water, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory. It uses a variety of habitats, including lakes, lagoons, swamps, dams, ponds, rivers and reservoirs. One common denominator seems to be the abundance of floating aquatic vegetation, including water-lilies (Nymphaeaspp.), water-weeds, reeds and grasses.

Striding from floating plant to floating plant, the jacana searches for aquatic invertebrates and plants (and their seeds) to eat, rarely coming to shore. Birders that have observed the species would no doubt have noticed that it resembles a rail— continuously flicking its tail up and down and bobbing its head in a backward and forward motion. When alarmed, it freezes and the broken pattern of its plumage can make it quite difficult to see. Generally though, with its long, skinny legs and bright red, fleshy comb, it is quite visible.

The jacana will swim and even dive to escape a predator and can fly surprisingly swiftly. Many times I’ve wondered how it manages to fly at all with those long, clumsy looking legs and toes dangling wildly behind!

Both sexes are identical in plumage, which is brighter and more intense during the breeding season. The female, however, is larger than the male (24–27cm in length compared to 20–21cm).

Emancipated mums

One winter I spent days sitting in an aluminium boat with my friend and fellow tour guide/wildlife photographer, Glen Threlfo, in Yellow Water. Watching these birds communicate was fascinating, especially when you consider their unusual breeding system. The female often courts a male, mates, lays eggs, then moves on to another male. The male is required to build the nest, incubate the clutch and tend to the chicks single-handedly. This role reversal is different to most other species of birds.

Paperbark swamp with waterlilies at Yellow Water, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory: ideal jacana habitat. A

Paperbark swamp with waterlilies at Yellow Water, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory: ideal jacana habitat. A

There doesn’t appear to be any hostility from males towards a female travelling from territory to territory. However, females are quite territorial and antagonistic towards each other. On one memorable occasion, a particular female was dominant amongst the various males and had presumably laid clutches for them. Generally, she stayed calmly among the males, but when a younger rival female arrived on the scene, feathers really did fly! The ferocity of the attack was stunning: she chittered and chased the intruder well away from the territory with such intensity that it was hard to believe she was only a petite individual.

Polyandry (many husbands) is quite rare and it has been suggested that it has evolved in jacanas because of the high rate of egg loss, but this may well be the result of single male parenthood rather than the cause. In general, polyandry occurs where breeding resources are scarce across the landscape but clumped in rich pockets— such as in a lagoon—giving females the opportunity to move easily from one male to the next, and a single parent the resources at hand to raise a family.

Diligent dads

The nest is generally quite a flimsy affair— nothing more than a clump of rotting aquatic plants and their roots, pulled together to form a weak platform. Some females even lay their clutch on nothing more than a lily leaf.

Over a period of a week or so, Glen and I managed to find quite a number of nests in the lagoons of Yellow Water and most of those were poorly built. With the weight of the incubating male, the eggs can be more in the water than out. To my amazement, all nests with eggs survived quite well.

Comb-crested Jacana

On a few occasions, I observed a male clumsily trying to rotate the eggs. In the process, some landed in the water and he rolled the floating eggs back towards him, using his bill to eventually return them to the nest. If predators approached, the male often trampled the large leaf the nest was sitting on, pushing the eggs into the water. This behaviour helped hide the eggs, while the male moved off to create a diversion. Occasionally, he even scooped the eggs up under his wings and moved them to a new nest.

Generally there are three to four eggs in a clutch, which the male incubates for around 28 days, leaving only to feed, see off nearby rivals or deter predators. At Yellow Water one morning, as the sun rose over the misty wetland, we noticed a male behaving in an excited manner. On closer inspection, I realised there was a chick in his nest. We observed for what seemed an eternity, until the male casually stood up and walked away, scouring the surrounding vegetation for insects. Since he was feeding and seemed unalarmed at our presence, we took the opportunity to move a little closer for a better look and a few quick photographs. As we approached, we noticed that a second chick was hatching—a special sight indeed. Newly hatched chicks are completely covered with fine down. They are amazingly well camouflaged. The combination of white, light brown and black makes them difficult to see amongst the aquatic plants.

Tiny snorkelers

To protect the chicks, males employ a variety of distraction techniques. These include feigning injury or running wildly away from the nest, calling loudly and madly flapping the wings. One of my favourite birding sights is a male ‘rounding up’ his brood. At our approach or any other danger, the male calls his chicks to settle beneath his wings, securing them there before carrying them to safety, tiny sets of legs dangling below each wing. If he feels that we are too close, he drops the chicks into the water, one by one, usually within a few metres of each other. The only way I can find them is to sit quietly in the boat, binoculars poised, searching for their tiny bills protruding above the surface of the water. They can ‘snorkel’ like that for up to half an hour.

If you are interested in learning more about how to photograph birds in Lamington National Park from experienced nature photographer Michael Snedic, you might like to join his next bird photography workshop at Lamington National Park.

First published in Wingspan Magazine.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Nature Photography Guide to Tasmania

Nature Photography Guide to Tasmania

Picnic Rocks

Text and images by Australian wildlife and nature photographer, Michael Snedic (April 2023)

Tasmania is an island state situated 240 km south of the Australian mainland and separated by the Bass Strait. Its landscapes are incredibly photogenic and range across rugged and diverse terrain including alpine heathlands, dry midlands, evergreen eucalypt forests, cool temperate rainforests, and so much more. There is a large array of wildlife found in Tasmania. Mammal types include various species of kangaroos and wallabies, bats, wombats, possums, platypus, echidnas, quolls, as well as the iconic (and endangered) Tasmanian devil. The island also has a wide assortment of bird species, reptiles and frogs. Some of the rarer bird species which bird photographers often seek to photograph include the endangered Orange-bellied parrot, the Swift parrot, the Forty-spotted pardalote and the Shy albatross. Regarding reptiles, there are 18 different species found here, including the She-oak, Delicate and White’s skinks. Frog species number 11, with species such as the Green and Gold, Eastern Banjo and Striped Marsh frogs found on this island state.

Tasmania is also a great location to photograph auroras (Aurora Australis), and they can appear at any time of the year. I have photographed auroras in Freycinet (from Coles Bay looking across to The Hazards) as well as Cradle Mountain, but they can appear almost anywhere across the state. Due to Tasmania’s closeness to the south magnetic pole towards Antarctica, Aurora Australis is often visible.

Basically, Tasmania is a photographer’s heaven!

Travelling to Tasmania

To get to Tasmania, you can fly to places such as Hobart or Launceston. If you are on the mainland and have a vehicle, you can drive it on to the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ ferry from Victoria across the Bass Strait.

As far as travelling around Tasmania is concerned, by far the easiest way is to hire a vehicle (either a car or a campervan). That way, you can travel wherever you want and stay in locations as long as you need. I have personally hired a campervan a number of times and this has given me plenty of flexibility. You can also join one of many organised tours on offer in the state, but unless it’s a photography-specific tour, your photographic options are usually limited, and a tad rushed.


Suggested Locations

1. Cradle Mountain

One of my personal favourite locations, where I have travelled with my camera and presented photography tours numerous times over many years, is the Cradle Mountain region. Cradle Mountain itself is situated in the central highlands region of Tasmania, within the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and rises 1,545 metres above sea level. Apart from incredible landscape opportunities (especially of the mountain itself at sunrise and sunset), there are plenty of stunning rainforests and waterfalls to be found in the region. Two waterfalls within easy reach are Knyvet and Pencil Pine, both of which are accessible by walking 5 minutes along a short boardwalk from the carpark area in front of Cradle Mountain Lodge. As far as wildlife opportunities go, you really are spoilt for choice! Echidnas frequent area, wallabies are quite common and around sunset and in the evenings you will sometimes see tiger quolls, which are carnivorous marsupials. Wombats are also common towards sunset around Ronny Creek. They are used to people, and you can generally get quite close to them with your camera.

Aurora-Cradle Mountain Tasmania

2. Tarkine/Takayna

The Tarkine region (also known by its indigenous name Takayna), in northwest Tasmania, is a much quieter and less well-known area and features incredibly beautiful landscapes. It contains high-quality wilderness as well as large tracts of rare, cool temperate rainforest  It also has eucalypt forest, dry sclerophyll, buttongrass,, woodlands, wetlands and grasslands, to name but some. For wildlife, the Tarkine is home to 28 terrestrial mammals, 111 birds, 11 reptiles, 8 frogs and 13 freshwater fish. One of the best areas to stay and visit is the small town of Corrina, situated right on the banks of the Pieman River. This small village offers cabin accommodation, campsites and meals (not offered in the off season). Corrina Homestead also offers two different boat trips – the Pieman River and Sweetwater cruise. Both cruises are worth doing and make for some unique photography experiences in Tasmania.

3. Freycinet

Freycinet, situated on the east coast of Tasmania, is a very popular tourist destination and for good reason. It features a peninsula defined by Schouten Island and a stunning mountain range known as the Hazards.
There are plenty of locations in Freycinet National Park worth visiting with your camera, the most popular being a hike which leads to a lookout that overlooks stunning Wineglass Bay. This hike is all uphill so a decent level of fitness is required. Another popular location is Cape Tourville Lighthouse, where you drive up a windy road to the carpark area and then walk along a boardwalk to reveal stunning views below! Other locations worth taking your camera to include Sleepy Bay and Honeymoon Bay, both of which are easily accessible by parking in the designated carparks and hiking along well-signed trails. Apart from an assortment of mammals to photograph, there are plenty of birds to along the shorelines, including species such as Pacific Gulls, Pied Oystercatchers, White-bellied Sea Eagles and Red-capped Plovers. The range of beautiful landscapes and wildlife are one of the reasons I run photography tours to Freycinet National Park and surrounds.


4. The Bay of Fires

Travelling north from Freycinet and still on the east coast of Tasmania is the region known as the Bay of Fires. Here you will find an incredible 50km coastline laden with massive granite boulders covered in orange lichen, snow-white sandy beaches and turquoise-coloured water. Destinations well worth visiting with your camera include Binalong Bay, Mount William National Park, (including the very photogenic Picnic Rocks) and Eddystone Lighthouse. There are loads of bird species here too, similar to the Freycinet region.

5. Mt Field National Park

Another area that is popular with photographers is Mt Field National Park, which is only a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Highlights include two majestic waterfalls – Russell and Horseshoe Falls. Both falls can be accessed very easily with a short hike from the Parks and Wildlife Service Information Centre, at the entrance to the national park. It is important to note that Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife permits MUST be purchased at the information centre prior to you visiting each of the falls. Another popular location is Tarn Shelf. By driving 16kms from the information centre, you end up at Lake Dobson carpark. You can then do a 12km hike known as the Tarn Shelf Circuit. This walk includes a number of glacial lakes and is very colourful in autumn when the deciduous beech trees turn a rich yellow colour.

Bennett's Wallaby

Best time of the year

As far as the best time of the year to travel to Tasmania, it depends on where you decide to go. Each season has its benefits. For areas such as Cradle Mountain, I suggest visiting in April/May. At the end of April and early May, the deciduous leaves of the Beech trees (Nothofagus) change colour and make for stunning landscape shots. The cooler months in this region (if/when it snows) also make for some great snow-covered mountain shots. On the east coast, in the areas mentioned including Freycinet and the Bay of Fires, I favour visiting in winter or spring, although most of the year can be quite decent to visit and photograph. The temperature is generally cooler and the forests quite lush. For the Tarkine region and Mt Field National Park, anytime of the year is fine to visit and photograph.

Top Tips for Nature Photography in Tasmania


1. Look for Diffused Light

The light can be very harsh in places such as Freycinet and the Bay of Fires, so when photographing seascapes, I prefer shooting at either sunrise or sunset. Subtle light wins over harsh, daytime light anytime!

When taking photos of waterfalls such as Russell and Horseshoe in Mt Field National Park, in the stunning rainforests at Cradle Mountain or forests in the Tarkine region, overcast days are always best. Clouds act as ‘nature’s diffuser’ and help reduce harsh shadows that sunny days can produce. To achieve smooth, milky waves crashing over rocks or onto the sand or cascading waterfall, using a neutral density (ND) filter with a sturdy tripod and a remote or cable release (or using an App on your phone that’s paired to your camera) is the best way to stabilise your camera/lens combo. This reduces the chance of blurry images quite well. You can also use a circular polarising filter (CPL) to slow down the camera’s shutter speed by 1.5 to 2 stops, reduce glare created from water as well as saturating the image slightly.

tasmanian devil

2. Bring a Long Lens

For photographing wildlife in locations such as Cradle Mountain, using a zoom lens with a decent focal length is best. I would certainly recommend a minimum focal length of around 400mm (or higher). Even though some of the wildlife such as wombats are quite relaxed and used to people approaching them fairly close, the longer focal-length lenses are needed for the more skittish species such as Tiger quolls or the popular Pink robin. The further away you are physically, the less the animal is disturbed and displays more natural behaviour. Wildlife species such as wombats, Bennett’s wallabies and echidnas (one of only two monotremes or egg-laying mammals in the world) are more active early in the morning or later in the day. The wider the minimum aperture your lens allows the better, as you are letting in more light and therefore increasing the camera’s shutter speed. The faster shutter speed minimises blur when handholding your gear. A monopod, with a monopod head, is another way of stabilising a heavy camera/lens combo.

For subjects such as wombats, Tasmanian devils or echidnas, which live on the ground, getting down to the animal’s eye level makes for more pleasing shots. With the Tasmanian devil, sightings are quite rare nowadays, due to a spread of facial tumours which drastically wiped the populations of these unique mammals. You may, however, be fortunate and see them at dusk and in the evening.

3. Use Fast Shutter Speeds

If you are planning to capture flying shots of bird species such as the Pacific Gull, the Wedge-tailed Eagle or the Green Rosella I suggest using continuous focus mode (AI Servo for Canon users) to help track your animal as its moving, coupled with ‘burst’ mode. Many mirrorless cameras have eye tracking capabilities nowadays which make tracking moving animals so much easier. To freeze your subject, you need to use a decent shutter speed (I recommend at least 1500th to 2000th of a second), especially for fast flying birds. The faster the better! If your subject is still and you are wanting to take a few portrait shots, then you don’t need a high shutter speed.

protesters falls

The main points to remember are to focus on the animal’s eye(s), leave room in the direction it is facing (if facing left or right and not looking directly at you) and watch for distractions in the background.

In conclusion

Tasmania has recorded the cleanest air in the world, is covered in incredible scenery and has many unique wildlife species. If you do decide to take a trip to this incredibly rich and diverse island with your camera, you will not be disappointed!

To view Michael’s photography, website, please visit:

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Use of Perspective In Wildlife Photography – Part Two

Use of Perspective In Wildlife Photography – Part Two

Close Up Polar Bears

Creating A Three-Dimensional Look

Over the many years I have been a wildlife and nature photographer, I have enjoyed experimenting with different lenses for capturing wildlife. This has made it possible to capture so many different types of wildlife images and has kept my photography ‘fresh’ after 26 years of shooting. Using a wide-angle lens such as a 14-24mm on a full frame camera, for example, can help you create interesting and unusual images with a totally different perspective. By getting down at eye level and close to a subject (if it allows you to get close) has created many pleasing images for me over the years. The image of the baby Common wombat featured here, was one of the examples. The use of a wide-angle lens up close exaggerates the three-dimensional look of the image. To me, this close-up wide image creates more of an impact than a nice portrait shot taken from a distance with a longer focal length lens.

Common Wombat

Exercise Patience When Getting Close

I am often asked “how do you get close to wildlife subjects” when using a wide-angle lens. One answer I give is “lots of patience”! With the shot of the pair of Tasman Boobies sitting on a cliff top at Norfolk Island, I spent a couple of hours each morning, over many days, sitting with them, talking calmly and basically letting the birds see that I wasn’t a threat. I would always approach very slowly and quietly and sit, then edge a little closer over time. Wild birds will often let you reasonably close, as long as you don’t make sudden, jerky movement and make lots of noise. With the Tasman Boobies, I was eventually at a stage where the pair sat calmly on the hill, while I was quite close with my wide-angle lens. For this particular shot, I was incredibly fortunate to have the clouds part slightly and the crepuscular rays shone through. All I needed to do was sit still and press the shutter.

During a trip to Macquarie Island in the Subantarctic, we came across some quite mellow Royal Penguins. Not having any predators on the island, after a very successful vermin eradication project over a number of years, the penguins were very chilled indeed! I was sitting on rocks surrounded by these delightful birds and waited. I had a wide-angle lens on my camera and as this pair started interacting, I was able to hone in and focus on that pair, while the other penguins were distant in the background.

Using A Trigger Remote

You may not always be able to get close to your subjects, like some of the examples I have mentioned. Another way to capture wildlife using wide-angle lenses is to set your gear up on a tripod and use a trigger remote. I have done this a few times in situations where the animal regularly does a courtship display or where there is a bathing, feeding or preening spot. You will need to ‘guesstimate’ where the individual may be (or you hope it to be) and pre-focus using manual focus. If you don’t do this and try and use automatic focus, you can’t necessarily control where the focus point will end up in your scene. I use a wireless remote release which allows me to sit a distance away and trigger the shutter, without spooking the subject.

Shoot At Eye Level

Even when using a larger focal length lens, you can achieve a completely different image by getting down at eye level with your subject. By using your widest aperture (smaller number) and focusing on a distant animal, you will often blur out the background and foreground. This blur helps exaggerate the subject. By being low down, the image you shoot can give greater significance to the subject. The viewer of the image therefore ends up having a stronger connection with the subject.

Abstract Wildlife Images

You can also achieve a completely different perspective by focusing in on one particular part of an animal. This could be the feathers of a bird, the fur of a mammal or the scales of a reptile or the eye(s) of a frog. These images are known as abstracts and again, can expand the repertoire of your wildlife images. They can be quite artistic and once you start experimenting, you have endless possibilities. If you can get close to your subjects and are using a macro lens, please remember that depth-of-field can become an issue when shooting so close. Make sure you use a small aperture (in size) to get as much of the detail you are photographing in focus.

Fit More In – Using A Fisheye Lens

Even fish-eye lenses can be used for wildlife photography and will definitely show a different perspective. In the image of the lone penguin standing on a small iceberg, I wanted to show the massive and stunning Antarctic landscape while showing how tiny the penguin was. It again gives a sense of scale – this tiny bird on a tiny iceberg in a massive landscape. Having a single zodiac with people in the background emphasises scale even more.

Lone Adelie Penguin

To add a different perspective to a well photographed subject, try also shooting in different light conditions. This may be a silhouette, a reflection or even a shadow of an animal. It often makes the viewer needing to look twice at an image before realising exactly what it is.

The best part of trying new ways to photograph wildlife it is that it is up to your imagination. Do some research as to where you may find certain wildlife subjects, head on out with all the appropriate camera gear and start experimenting. You may ‘fail’ with many shots but you will also succeed with others. As the old saying goes “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

Noisy Pittas: Jewels of the Rainforest Floor

Noisy Pittas: Jewels of the Rainforest Floor

Noisy Pitta with chicks

Noisy Pitta Pitta versicolor, sometimes known as the Jewel Thrush or Anvil Bird. The Latin versicolor refers to the various colours of the bird’s plumage.

‘WALK TO WORK, walk to work’ – this was the unmistakable call of an adult Noisy Pitta Pitta versicolor as it flew towards its nest at the base of a Black Booyong tree. In response, two small heads appeared from the nest entrance. Shortly afterwards, one of the chicks summoned up the courage to leave the warmth and security of the nest and venture into the open…

By now, both parents had arrived and were fussing excitedly over the chick. This prompted the second chick to follow suit. The chicks seemed totally bewildered by all this attention, with both parents circling nervously as if to protect their offspring from the dangers of the ‘real’ world outside. Within minutes the parent birds disappeared, only to return a short while later, beaks brimming with tasty morsels.

Seeing the chicks fledge at such close range was a memorable moment, made possible by the camouflaged hide I was sitting in. Although living and working in southeast Queensland’s Lamington National Park had given me other opportunities to witness the Noisy Pitta’s nesting habits, I had never before been able to observe the birds or record their behaviour so minutely. The hide also enabled me to photograph the Pittas without disturbing them.

Distribution and habitat

Of the three Australian Pittas (Red-bellied, Rainbow and Noisy), the Noisy has by far the widest distribution, ranging from the Torres Strait Islands in the north to the Hunter Region (NSW) in the south. Mostly found east of the Great Dividing Range, Noisy Pittas seem to be well established in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales. Over the years, I have spotted them at various locations, including Noosa National Park and Brisbane State Forest (Qld), Border Ranges National Park and Mt Warning National Park (northern NSW).

Fortunately, the Noisy Pitta is not currently under any threat in any part of its range. However, in some areas, the bird’s habitat has been partially affected by land clearance for agriculture and urbanisation, as well as the proliferation of feral cats.

In Lamington National Park, two hours south of Brisbane, the Noisy Pitta’s population is quite steady. Lamington was the third national park to be declared in Australia, in July 1915. This stunning park has the distinction of containing the largest remnant of sub-tropical rainforest in Australia. Covering some 20,500 ha, Lamington also incorporates eucalyptus and beech (Nothofagus) forests as well as wet and dry sclerophyll forests. The sheer diversity of fauna and flora, some of which are exceptionally rare and unique to the area, led to Lamington National Park being listed as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

Antarctic Beech Nothofagus moorei, Lamington National Park. With its vast area of undisturbed, old-growth rainforest, heavy rainfall and rich volcanic soils, Lamington provides ideal habitat for the Noisy Pitta.

Antarctic Beech Nothofagus moorei, Lamington National Park. With its vast area of undisturbed, old-growth rainforest, heavy rainfall and rich volcanic soils, Lamington provides ideal habitat for the Noisy Pitta.

With an annual rainfall of 2–3 metres, rich volcanic soil and a large area of undisturbed old-growth forest, Lamington allows the Noisy Pitta to thrive and breed undisturbed. Being mostly ground dwellers, the Pittas spend their days foraging through the moist, decomposing leaf litter of the rainforest floor in search of the many insects found there. Rather than walking or running, they tend to hop along the ground.

At an altitude of 920 metres, Lamington National Park becomes quite cool from the middle of autumn to early spring. My observations have shown that during this period, the majority of Noisy Pittas migrate to lower altitudes, seeking a warmer climate. They tend to leave around April, returning approximately October. There are, however – as always – exceptions to this rule: some individuals will brave the cold during the winter months.

Nest building and breeding

In southeast Queensland, Noisy Pittas may breed from October to February, though mostly November to January. Here in Lamington National Park, their favourite nest sites are the bases of buttress-rooted trees: White Booyong, Black Booyong, Mararie and Green-Leafed Moreton Bay Figs. Quite cleverly, the nest will always be situated on the downhill side of the buttress to prevent it from washing away after excessive downpours.

The pair of Pittas I observed shared nest-building duties, both birds working diligently. Sticks and leaves were used to compose the dome-like structure, which was woven together with thin pieces of grass. Once the nest was complete, the pair lined it with copious amounts of moss and lichen. A distinctive feature was the platform-like structure leading to the nest entrance.

Apart from nest-building duties, both birds shared incubation duties. Three eggs were laid, two of which later hatched (Noisy Pittas generally lay three to four eggs). Incubation started after the third and final egg was laid, with incubation lasting 15 days.

Noisy Pittas are diligent feeders of their chicks – something I experienced while watching this particular pair flying back and forth continuously to the nest, sharing chick-feeding equally.

Feeding the chicks. How can one chick physically digest so many insects, so often, in such a short time!

Feeding the chicks. How can one chick physically digest so many insects, so often, in such a short time!

It’s hard to imagine how a small chick can physically digest so many insects so often in such a short time! From the moment they hatched, these chicks were crammed full of insects, including caterpillars, worms, centipedes, spiders and even flesh extracted from the Giant Panda Snail. As the chicks grew older, the quantity of insects increased dramatically, though the frequency between feeds decreased significantly.

After feeding a chick, the parent bird waited patiently until the chick released a faecal sac. The parent then took the sac in its bill and proceeded to fly a fair distance from the nest to dispose of it. The theory behind this behaviour is that it prevents odours from building up within the nest, thus detracting predators such as Green Catbirds, Carpet Pythons or Dingoes.

For most of the time, the parent birds used exactly the same flight path, close to the ground, and landed on the same perch before entering the nest, being quite systematic in their approach. On a few occasions when I approached too close to the fledged chicks, one of the adult Pittas gave a loud ‘keow’ call, thought to be a warning or alarm call. The adult would try and distract me away from its offspring by flying quite close to me, then feigning injury. It would drop its wing to the ground, while the second parent would try and call the chick with a series of frequent, low-volume calls from a distance.

Observing Noisy Pittas

In my experience, Noisy Pittas are generally shy, wary and quite elusive at times, despite their brilliantly coloured plumage. When searching for the Pitta, it’s best to start by listening for its distinctive two-note call – thought to be used mainly to attract a mate as well as being territorial, particularly during the breeding season. This call can be heard throughout the day, especially at dawn, but also just after dark.

Apart from their call, another sign of the Pitta’s presence is the discovery of discarded rainforest snail shells (i.e. Giant Panda Snail) near a rock. This rock is commonly referred to as an ‘anvil’ due to the Pitta’s habit of repeatedly bashing snails against it in order to extract the prize within. Often, whole shells will be seen lying intact near the anvil, with only the centre smashed open. Once an anvil is established, the Noisy Pitta will commonly return to it to crack open its snail shells.

Even though Noisy Pittas are mostly found foraging amongst the leaf litter, they will roost high in trees at night so as to avoid predators.

With its strikingly coloured plumage, engaging mannerisms and elusive nature, the Noisy Pitta is a favourite among birders, including myself. Regularly I walk the numerous trails of Lamington National Park as a Guide, birders in tow, looking for the rainforest’s countless fascinating birds. When I hear my friend the Pitta’s distant ‘Walk-to-work’ call echoing at me, I can’t help but smile at the irony – I am walking to work!

If you are interested in learning more about how to photograph birds in Lamington National Park from experienced nature photographer Michael Snedic, you might like to join his next bird photography workshop at Lamington National Park.

First published in Wingspan Magazine.

If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.

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