Ash

'Ash'
Grey Falcon

more information

To meet Ash I had to fly all the way to Western Australia. Grey Falcons are rare, and Ash is lucky to be alive. Two wildlife photographers, with a passion for birds, were driving along a dirt road in the remote Kimberley region and saw a flash of white to the side of the road. In case it was an injured bird, they stopped and stumbled upon this beautiful Grey Falcon staring back at them. His left wing was so disfigured that it had to be partially amputated (which can’t been seen from my portrait).

Ash is now the only Grey Falcon in captivity in the world. He is lovingly cared for by Phil Pain from Eagle Heritage in Margaret River. Pain lives in hope that if a female comes into care, there maybe an opportunity to breed them and bring the Grey Falcon back from the brink of extinction.

Sean Dooley, editor of Birdlife Australia and author of a brilliantly funny and entertaining book, The Big Twitch, would agree that I am very lucky to have met Ash. Dooley is a hardcore birdwatcher and his book is about a childhood dream to break the Australian twitching record of seeing more than 700 species of birds in 12 months. The dream of becoming a national champion is, in his publisher’s words: “both ridiculous and inspiring”. Dooley’s book is a true story about obsession, seeking a meaningful life and searching for the elusive Grey Falcon.

The Grey Falcon is also known by the beautiful name of the Smoke Hawk. It is not only rare, but it is also classified as a true nomadic species because it never nests in the same location twice, making it incredibly difficult to study. The Red Goshawk is considered Australia’s rarest bird of prey but anecdotally, all the wildlife carers I’ve met think the Grey Falcon is just as rare with estimations of a population of only 1,000 left Australia-wide.

Photographing Ash was incredibly easy, and as Phil pointed out to me the fluffy feathers under his chin, were puffed up — a sign of him being at ease. He was very chatty and spirited but also keen to please. I even got to have my photo taken with him happily sitting on my lap… but don’t tell Sean Dooley.

GreyFalcon_map

Bandit

'Bandit'
Nankeen Kestrel

more information

Bandit is a cheeky bird that lives up to her name. She lives at Broadwings Raptor Training and Conservation Centre, and as a young bird, had a habit of stealing teabags off the kitchen bench. Paul and his partner Robyn couldn’t understand why they were going through so many teabags until finally they discovered the remnants of her stash.

Bandit was very vocal when I met her, making chattering calls, constantly on the lookout and assessing the surroundings, making plans for her next heist. Yet every now and then she would hold a pose that would look quite innocent, which was quite funny.

Bandit is just a juvenile; as she grows up, her eye ring will turn a bright yellow as well as her cere (her nostrils).  She has lovely teardrop-shaped black markings and is one of our smallest birds of prey.

Nankeen Kestrels are common birds that can be easily identified because of their distinctive technique of hovering over grasslands in search of mice and insects. Like so many Australian birds, they have no clear migratory path. Some established pairs are residents in a location all year round while others migrate north during the winter.

Generally they form monogamous relationships where Mum incubates the eggs while her partner searches for food. When the young are close to fledging the female will leave the nest to hunt for food to help feed them before the chicks start their journey into the world.

BrownFalcon_Goshawk__Kestrel_Peregrine_WedgeTailedmap

Cleo

'Cleo'
Peregrine Falcon

more information

If ever there was a ‘raptor’ supermodel, a Peregrine Falcon would be it. Cleo captivated me on our first meeting. Her long, sleek muscular body and intricate, patterned feathers, topped off with an air of refinement, made me feel like an awkward ugly duckling in her presence.

But Cleo is so much more than just a beauty. She could represent Australia at the Olympics, as Peregrine Falcons are the fastest animal on earth. When hunting they perform what is called a ‘stoop’ — a free-fall dive from great heights that was tracked at reaching 389km/h (242 mph). Peregrine Falcons mate for life and the grown-ups tend not to move house – they maintain a home range of 20 square kms. Although they are found throughout Australia (and in other parts of the world), they are still a rare and glorious sighting.

The Peregrine Falcon’s story is all the more remarkable considering that not long ago they were almost extinct in some places. With extensive pesticide use (especially DDT) in North America making its way into the food chain, Falcon populations dived in the 1970s and they were listed as critically endangered. Being a top predator, these birds absorbed so much of the pesticide that their eggshells thinned and the young died before they could hatch.

Scientists lobbied the government and DDT was finally banned in North America in 1972 but it took until 1987 to ban it in Australia. DDT takes years to disappear completely from the environment, so an enormous conservation effort was mounted to ensure the Falcon eggs hatched successfully. One method involved scaling high cliffs where the birds nested, taking the eggs from the nest and replacing them with warming ceramic eggs to keep the parents happy.

The real egg was then hatched in an incubator brooder so there was no weight placed on the thinning shell. With the use of hand puppets and vocal mimicry, the chicks were fed and then returned to the nest for the parents to raise. Thanks to these elaborate conservation efforts, the Peregrine Falcon is now off the endangered list and we can still admire supermodels like Cleo in the wild.

BrownFalcon_Goshawk__Kestrel_Peregrine_WedgeTailedmap

Darcy

'Darcy'
Brown Falcon

more information

When I was a child I was enamoured with animals and saw them as people. I thought of them as my friends and imagined they could talk to me. As an adult, I sometimes have an encounter during my portrait work that takes me back to those childhood memories.

Meeting Darcy was one of those experiences where my imagination ran wild. Darcy is such a dramatic bird; I pictured a world-renowned thespian, a lover of Shakespeare. I was on the edge of my seat as the curtain was drawn, revealing Darcy on stage, spotlight shining on his tailcoat, cravat and pocket watch. He delivers a monologue and dazzles the audience with his electrifying performance. The real world disappears and he has us in the palm of his … claws.

Photographing Darcy was a wonderful experience. He knew to look directly into the camera, as if he’d done this all before and was a seasoned professional. It was such an intimate portrait session.

Brown Falcons are a small to medium-sized raptor with a characteristic tear-stripe below the eye. The Brown Falcon can be found throughout Australia with variations in their plumage colours depending on where they are found.

They like open grassland and agricultural areas with scattered trees, and can often be seen perched on top of a telegraph pole. In outback towns the birds can become quite tame and allow you to get quite close to them.

BrownFalcon_Goshawk__Kestrel_Peregrine_WedgeTailedmap

Dexter

'Dexter'
White-Bellied Sea-Eagle

more information

Dexter was a distinguished nine-year-old gentleman when I met him. He lives with Paul Mander from Broadwings on the Gold Coast, and had been given to Paul by someone who found him to be of “strong character” and consequently “difficult to handle”. Paul went to work with him and his deportment lessons paid off. Dexter was so impeccably groomed and his behaviour so amiable that I found it hard to believe he once had wild ways.

Sea-Eagles reside throughout South-East Asia, from India and Sri Lanka all the way to Australia. They breed and hunt only near water, with fish making up half their diet. Little is known about their complete breeding cycle, from building their impressive giant nests to fledging their young, but BirdLife Australia is working to solve the mystery.

Since 2009, BirdLife Australia volunteers have run EagleCAM, a live video and bird diary. It’s the best kind of reality TV – anyone can click on the remote feed to see what the eagles are doing. The stars are a pair of Parramatta River Sea-Eagles who can be followed through the highs and lows of life in the wetlands near Sydney Olympic Park. The couple have raised young for many years although last year they failed to breed which caused much concern. This year they laid two eggs; one little chick emerged while the other failed to hatch. The weather has been wild, and watching the high stakes drama unfold is mesmerising.

An extract from the Eagle Diary explains what the young family faces when it rains:

http://birdlife.org.au/visit-us/discovery-centre/eagle-cam 

August 17: Today was a horrible wet day, with torrential rain for the whole morning. The female spent the whole morning sheltering the eaglet on the nest. She was very wet and bedraggled. When she did stand, we could see that the eaglet was very wet as well, though moving strongly, if a bit wobbly. The second egg is still not hatched. Several times a large blowfly sat on the egg – maybe bits of food on the egg? The male has brought in several items of food, which are lined up on the nest – another pigeon (which has been plucked), a couple of bream and the tail end of another fish. When the rain eased, the female left to dry out a bit and the male brooded the wet eaglet. The chick gradually dried out as the weather cleared and finally had a good feed in the afternoon.

WhiteBelliedSeaEagle_map

Duke

'Duke'
Eastern Grass Owl

more information

As his species name suggests, Duke is a ground-dwelling owl that hangs out in open habitats with tall tussocks, such as grasslands and swamps. Duke lives at Eagle Heritage in Margaret River, WA, and on meeting him it was obvious he was special. For his portrait, Phil molded him a little cushion out of cloth to stand on as he much preferred to be on the ground.

The evolutionary difference from one bird to another never ceases to amaze me.

I couldn’t believe how long Duke’s legs were, like two long popsicles holding up a bean bag – unbelievably cute! The Eastern Grass Owl is often called the Daddy Long Legs Owl, which says it all.

Duke was a wonderfully calm bird and very easy to work with. I tried to capture the beautiful caramel, vanilla and chocolate colours, with silver stars and chocolate sprinkles. He looked like medieval royalty wearing a magnificent spangled cloak.

Grass Owls are found on the floodplains of large rivers from Cape York to Manning River in NSW, or in WA on the grasslands of Barkly Tableland and the Channel country. Their nests are either a scraped hollow or simply a platform of trampled plant stems. They build tunnels through the tall grass that leads to their home with at least three approach tunnels of 10 metres in length.

EasternGrassOwl_map

Fenrick

'Fenrick'
Black Kite

more information

Meeting a Black Kite up close is quite extraordinary: they are beautiful birds! Fenrick is nine years old and so his feathers are fully matured and at their most striking. I couldn’t believe the thin, dramatic black feathers woven into his coat like a tapestry … the effect was so delicate, it looked like he was an illustration.

I observed the lovely dark brown feathers around his eye, looking like a pair of sunglasses he never loses. This luscious band is a result of evolution, an adaptation to stop the sun reflecting into his eye when he is gliding on thermals as he searches for food. You might have seen American footballers with black paint under their eyes: Black Kites thought of it first.

Black Kites are opportunistic hunters and are more likely to scavenge by eating carrion which means they help clean up any rotting meat that can cause the spread of disease.

If you make your way to Eagle Heritage in Margaret River, Western Australia, you can watch a magnificent daily flight show with Black Kites diving and ducking in front of you. It’s truly a thing of beauty.

BlackKite_map

Harriet

'Harriet'
Powerful Owl

more information

The Powerful Owl has been teasing me. When I started this body of work, I knew it was possible I would not be able to photograph all the species of Australian owls as some are so rare. I made my list of the nine species of owls found in Australia and slowly as years passed, each bird received a tick… except for the Powerful Owl.

Then big news broke: for the first time since records began, a Powerful Owl had moved into Centennial Park in Sydney. The importance of this sighting was significant because the bird was not found on Ern Hoskin’s bird list – a wonderful man who spent 50 years observing and recording bird species found at Centennial Park.

I went to the park to see if I could find the owl, and there he was high up in a branch, looking down and taunting me. Then, during a birdwatching excursion with my husband, we came across another Powerful Owl at Irrawong Reserve, Pittwater – this one was also low in a branch looking at me. The Powerful Owl in Centennial Park then found a mate; suddenly there were two roosting in the tree staring down at me! Everywhere I looked there were Powerful Owls, but not one being cared for that I could photograph.

At the eleventh hour, a call came through to let me know there was a Powerful Owl in care at Eagle Heritage in Margaret River, WA. My exhibition was only weeks away so I boarded the plane with my equipment in tow, excited about finally seeing this beautiful bird up close.

When I met Harriet, she was extremely shy – so much so that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take her portrait. There was nothing about her that said ‘powerful’ – more gentle and nervous at all the attention. Phil was wonderful with her, speaking quietly and encouraging her to relax. Eventually I was able to photograph her, but it was a very short session. We didn’t want to cause her any undue stress and knew she preferred to be roosting in her tree than being in front of the camera. It was a heartening experience, however – expecting to meet a strong and tough bird only to find a vulnerable, gentle giant.

Powerful owls are giants… they’re Australia’s largest ‘hawk owl’ measuring up to 65cm in length.

And finally I’ve met an owl that actually ‘hoots’! It’s hard to believe, but the only owl that hoots in Australia is the Powerful Owl. It’s a beautiful deep, resonant ‘woo woo’ or ‘woo hoo’ and they always give a double hoot. If you ever visit Sydney, it’s a must to go and see the owls at Centennial Park. Seeing them is thrilling but hearing them is just as exciting. Being so big, they’re not hard to find once you locate the tree they like to roost in.

PowerfulOwl_map

Ivy

'Ivy'
Eastern Barn Owl

more information

The Barn Owl is such an iconic feature of children’s books, that actually meeting Ivy in person took my life-long association with these graceful birds to a new level. I immediately understood why owls are depicted in mythical fables – her white feathers are so iridescent she seems to glow, her velvety wings look and feel like a handwoven silk carpet, and her soft downy feathers on her tummy and legs are buttery soft.

During our photo session, I was privileged to have Ivy fly around me. Owls have evolved to be silent in flight, and it was incredible to watch her gaze up, decide where she wanted to go, and then – as if levitating – silently fly onto my light stand. To be in a room as a bird flies in silence is an experience I will never forget.

Owls have evolved fine serrated edges on their wing feathers that distributes the air and reduces the sound made by birds in flight. The soft downy feathers on an owl’s body and legs also aids in the reduction of sound.

The Barn Owl is the most widely-distributed owl in the world with approximately 28 sub-species. Like so many of the owls I have met during this project, Ivy does not ‘hoot’ – instead her call is more of a screech.

PacificBarnOwl_map

Jeda

'Jeda'
Sooty Owl

more information

For a nocturnal creature, Jeda surprised me by being a bundle of energy. Generally speaking, owls tend not to move around much, but Jeda was very active, always on the prowl and facing different directions. She was very alert and listened to me talking to her as I took her portrait.

Sooty Owls have a wide range of calls. One which took me by surprise was so pretty, a soft chirruping trill.

Although listed as ‘vulnerable’, Sooty Owls are found in small populations throughout southern Queensland, coastal NSW and down to Victoria, living in temperate rainforest and eucalypt forests. They can live for many decades, and mate for the life of a partner.

Jeda is a resident at Broadwings on Queensland’s Gold Coast. She came in with an eye injury and has been deemed non-releasable, so is now in permanent care.

Broadwings is just one of the many wildlife networks that I’ve had the privilege to work with during this project. In Sydney where I live, I have seen different stages of treatment, from critical care where wildlife vets and nurses treat animals with serious injuries, to Sydney Wildlife and WIRES with their network of volunteers taking calls as well as caring for and rehabilitating injured animals for release back into the wild.

Another impressive facility is the Wildlife Care Centre at the John Morony Correctional Complex in Berkshire Park that looks after injured animals prior to release, as well as those in permanent care.

This is a correctional facility for female offenders, who, as part of their own rehabilitation, are given the opportunity to work with animals at the massive wildlife care centre on prison grounds.

I have visited this centre – the largest of its kind in NSW – several times now to take photographs of the animals, and am very impressed at the extraordinary set-up. There are wallabies, emus, kangaroos, possums, bats, snakes, lizards and of course a wide variety of birds including birds of prey.

In meeting some of the female offenders, I saw firsthand how they bonded with the animals, giving them purpose during their incarceration as well as providing care for the animals and a chance for them to recover.

SootyOwl_map

Mulga

'Mulga'
Black-Breasted Buzzard

more information

Although the word ‘tough’ comes to mind when I think of Mulga, he was very shy when we first met. He was crouched low, looking over his shoulder surveying the surroundings, and totally ignoring me. It was a time of observation, with his carer Paul curious to see if he would relax and connect with me so I could take his portrait.

With time, however, Mulga became familiar with the strange photographic gear, his composure shifting from uncertain and distracted to suddenly very focused – on me! It’s an exhilarating feeling when a bird makes this transition, with silent communication as we studied each other. The intelligence of this bird was profound, and I was left wishing I could read his thoughts… or perhaps not, as I wonder if he was thinking how tasty I might be.

Mulga is eight years old and a bird that has found ways to solve complicated problems in order to survive – for instance, how to break open an emu egg when the shell is so strong it can’t be pierced with his beak. His solution is to find suitable rocks and hurl it onto the egg until it cracks open so he can treat himself to the yolk inside. So many animals use tools – humans really need to come up with a new way to feel special.

Buzzards are found mainly in the north and semi-arid or arid regions of Australia and are rarely seen in coastal areas. They are partially migratory in northern Australia and more sedentary in the south-east. Their movements are related to rainfall.

Trying to identify a Buzzard is a little easier than other birds of prey because, in flight, they have what is known as ‘white windows’ under their wings which are bright white feathers.

BlackBreastedBuzzard_map

Pepper

'Pepper'
Southern Boobook

more information

Paul Mander runs Broadwings, a raptor training and rehabilitation centre in Queensland. Rescued as a chick and hand-raised by a caring vet, Pepper the little Southern Boobook is now in Paul’s care, and is simply the cutest owl in town.

We weren’t sure how Pepper would go being photographed, and at first she wasn’t sure either. She kept flying off her perch, preferring to be on the ground. But the transformation was astounding as Paul kept reassuring  and comforting her, the little bird nuzzling into his chest. Her confidence grew so much that she stood up tall on her beautiful little legs and it was a wonderful portrait session.

We had a fan blowing gently to keep her cool as it was the height of Summer; it was only later that I noticed her feathers were not all in place – aided by the gentle breeze, they were accentuated into a little side ruffle.

Paul has tried to release Pepper three times but she keeps coming back. We know she will eventually be brave enough to leave home.

The Southern Boobook is found in most parts of Australia and is our smallest owl –  Pepper was under 30cm tall. They nest in tree hollows, which are important habitats for our native wildlife.

SouthernBoobook_map

Sooty

'Sooty'
Lesser Sooty Owl

more information

Someone must have told Sooty I was coming to take her portrait because she definitely enrolled into modelling school in preparation! As well as being drop dead gorgeous, she’d obviously been doing some serious grooming; and when it came to the photo shoot she was like a seasoned professional. She would hold a pose so I could take her portrait, and as soon as I did she would change her position, striking a new exquisite pose for the next shot. This went on and on, making me laugh because she was so easy to work with – I couldn’t believe it.

Perhaps Sooty was a natural because she’s so used to attention. She is a resident at Eagle Heritage in Margaret River and an ambassador for native Australian owls. Phil Pain uses Sooty for educational purposes, taking her to conservation functions and schools so that the next generation can experience her wonderment.

Appreciating that it’s hard to be motivated to protect a species you’ve never met, Phil allows people to get up close to Sooty, and I’ve personally witnessed the delight she brings to people young and old, and how that joyous experience translates to genuine care for wildlife.

Lesser Sooty Owls were once considered to be a sub-species of their close cousins the Sooty Owl but taxonomists have since recognised them as a distinct species. They are considered by many to be the prettiest representative of the genus Tyto (owls that have the divided heart-shape facial disc).

Lesser Sooty Owls live in the tropical rainforests of North-Eastern Queensland. They are unable to build a true nest and instead depend on tree crevices to roost in.

They have the most amazing call described as the sound of a “falling bomb”.

LesserSootyOwl_map

Soren

'Soren'
Wedge-Tailed Eagle

more information

With a wingspan of up to 2.2 metres, Wedgies are Australia’s largest bird of prey, and very commanding creatures. My initial meeting with Soren was an intimidating experience: during our first photo shoot, he got up to fly, the gust of wind produced by his wingbeat almost bowling me over. As I spent time with him over a year, however, I discovered that he’s a gentle giant with a comical swagger and bounce when he walks.

Soren is looked after by Paul Mander from Broadwings Raptor Training and Conservation Centre near the Gold Coast. He has a very important job, used as part of a conservation program to deter other bird species from destroying property and kicking their sugar addiction (which comes from raiding sugar packets left on balconies in hotels – it is very hard for their little livers to process). The loveable Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo is a common offender.

Soren’s job is to approach the flock of Cockies, a camera attached to his back; the clever thing never harms them, but just his presence is enough to deter them. Knowing such an intimidating predator is in town, the offending flock moves on.

Wedgies are only protected in two states in Australia and have been seriously persecuted through intentional trapping, shooting and poisoning for over 100 years. I think that’s another reason why meeting Soren was so special – I always fall for the underdog.

Farmers claim that Wedge-Tailed Eagles steal their livestock, but studies show that only 3% of a Wedgies’ diet is from livestock. Primarily, they live off carrion (decaying meat); and with no vultures to clean up the mess in Australia, the role of a Wedgie actually prevents the spread of disease. Fortunately, the younger farming generation is starting to learn more about these birds and appreciate the important environmental role they play.

BrownFalcon_Goshawk__Kestrel_Peregrine_WedgeTailedmap

Tani no. 1

'Tani' no. 1
Masked Owl

more information

Working with wild birds is unchartered territory as each bird has its own personality and history. You never really know if you will capture a portrait that is worthy of the subject you meet.

Such was the case with Tani, who is 11 years old, 39cm tall and a real lady but Tani was so amiable and gentle that I felt I could do a whole series just on her. She was so sweet and her expressions so like ours; I felt like I was photographing a small human wrapped in a crocheted shawl. It was difficult to reduce my edits to one portrait – which is why, for the first time, I have included three different portraits of a bird in the one exhibition.

Masked Owls are commonly referred to as Mouse Owls since a large portion of their diet consists of mice. They like to live amongst shrubs and bushland waterways and are rarely found more than 300km inland.

Masked Owls’ plumage can vary from pale, intermediate and dark; however, their patterns are all rather similar.

MaskedOwl_map

Tani no. 2

'Tani' no. 2
Masked Owl

more information

Working with wild birds is unchartered territory as each bird has its own personality and history. You never really know if you will capture a portrait that is worthy of the subject you meet.

Such was the case with Tani, who is 11 years old, 39cm tall and a real lady but Tani was so amiable and gentle that I felt I could do a whole series just on her. She was so sweet and her expressions so like ours; I felt like I was photographing a small human wrapped in a crocheted shawl. It was difficult to reduce my edits to one portrait – which is why, for the first time, I have included three different portraits of a bird in the one exhibition.

Masked Owls are commonly referred to as Mouse Owls since a large portion of their diet consists of mice. They like to live amongst shrubs and bushland waterways and are rarely found more than 300km inland.

Masked Owls’ plumage can vary from pale, intermediate and dark; however, their patterns are all rather similar.

MaskedOwl_map

Tani no.3

'Tani' no. 3
Masked Owl

more information

Working with wild birds is unchartered territory as each bird has its own personality and history. You never really know if you will capture a portrait that is worthy of the subject you meet.

Such was the case with Tani, who is 11 years old, 39cm tall and a real lady but Tani was so amiable and gentle that I felt I could do a whole series just on her. She was so sweet and her expressions so like ours; I felt like I was photographing a small human wrapped in a crocheted shawl. It was difficult to reduce my edits to one portrait – which is why, for the first time, I have included three different portraits of a bird in the one exhibition.

Masked Owls are commonly referred to as Mouse Owls since a large portion of their diet consists of mice. They like to live amongst shrubs and bushland waterways and are rarely found more than 300km inland.

Masked Owls’ plumage can vary from pale, intermediate and dark; however, their patterns are all rather similar.

MaskedOwl_map

Trinity

'Trinity'
Brown Goshawk

more information

When I first met Trinity she was not quite 12 months old. She came into care with Paul from Broadwings after losing her home. When the government decides to allow developers to clear bushland for housing, a spotter catcher is called in an attempt to catch and remove animals before the bush is cleared. Trinity was just a little chick in a nest with her brother and unfortunately she was not spotted.

During the clearing process, the nest fell and she and her brother sustained injuries but were fortunately found. Her brother had a broken leg that became infected and sadly was put down as he was too sick to survive. Trinity, however, did get better;  and after learning of her difficult start in life I felt enormous respect for this tough little lady.

The first time I photographed her she was wearing little love heart patterns on her chest; a year later she had changed into stripes. I can’t believe how much the feather patterns can change and realise this is why it can be so hard to identify birds of prey.

Every time I met Trinity she was a confident bird and comfortable in front of the camera, and I enjoyed getting to know her and watch her grow over the course of a year.

Brown Goshawks feed on small mammals, with rabbits a popular choice. Rabbits cause a great deal of environmental damage to native vegetation (some plant species are now extinct because of them) and are largely responsible for the demise of the bilby and bandicoot which were once common Australian mammals.

Brown Goshawks like to build their nest on the tallest tree available which they line with fresh eucalypt leaves – they must be such lovely smelling homes! Couples will stay in the same area and often reuse the same nest year after year. The offspring eventually leave the nest and disperse widely, travelling up to 900km to establish their own breeding territory.

BrownFalcon_Goshawk__Kestrel_Peregrine_WedgeTailedmap

Yule

'Yule'
Barking Owl

more information

Yule the Barking Owl glided into the room with his characteristic “woof, woof”. He was particularly chatty and the conversation flowed freely, mainly him talking and me laughing.  As well as their barks, this owl has a famous call which apparently sounds like a human scream…  perhaps not the most relaxing sound to stumble across at night in the bush.

All the excitement wore Yule out and as I was taking his portrait he started to get sleepy. Being nocturnal meant that it really was his bedtime but I liked the fact he was so relaxed in my company.

Because they don’t have the characteristic heart-shaped face associated with the more common Barn Owl, Barking Owls belong to a group known as ‘hawk-owls’. Barking Owls are found across Australia but they are unable to survive in arid, treeless or heavily forested regions, instead preferring open woodlands. They only nest in an open hollow in a tree trunk which they make comfortable by lining it loosely with sticks and wood debris. Unfortunately their numbers are rapidly dwindling due to habitat loss as well as competition from introduced species such as honeybees for roost sites. They also compete with foxes and cats for food.

I have been reading about some of the recovery plans currently in place and I desperately hope they work so that we can continue to hear their wonderful barking call. Although someone might need to have a quiet word with them about keeping the screaming down.

BarkingOwl_map

Duke No. 2

'Duke No. 2'
Eastern Grass Owl

more information

As his species name suggests, Duke is a ground-dwelling owl that hangs out in open habitats with tall tussocks, such as grasslands and swamps. Duke lives at Eagle Heritage in Margaret River, WA, and on meeting him it was obvious he was special. For his portrait, Phil molded him a little cushion out of cloth to stand on as he much preferred to be on the ground.

The evolutionary difference from one bird to another never ceases to amaze me.

I couldn’t believe how long Duke’s legs were, like two long popsicles holding up a bean bag – unbelievably cute! The Eastern Grass Owl is often called the Daddy Long Legs Owl, which says it all.

Duke was a wonderfully calm bird and very easy to work with. I tried to capture the beautiful caramel, vanilla and chocolate colours, with silver stars and chocolate sprinkles. He looked like medieval royalty wearing a magnificent spangled cloak.

Grass Owls are found on the floodplains of large rivers from Cape York to Manning River in NSW, or in WA on the grasslands of Barkly Tableland and the Channel country. Their nests are either a scraped hollow or simply a platform of trampled plant stems. They build tunnels through the tall grass that leads to their home with at least three approach tunnels of 10 metres in length.

EasternGrassOwl_map

Sooty No. 2

'Sooty No. 2'
Lesser Sooty Owl

more information

Someone must have told Sooty I was coming to take her portrait because she definitely enrolled into modelling school in preparation! As well as being drop dead gorgeous, she’d obviously been doing some serious grooming; and when it came to the photo shoot she was like a seasoned professional. She would hold a pose so I could take her portrait, and as soon as I did she would change her position, striking a new exquisite pose for the next shot. This went on and on, making me laugh because she was so easy to work with – I couldn’t believe it.

Perhaps Sooty was a natural because she’s so used to attention. She is a resident at Eagle Heritage in Margaret River and an ambassador for native Australian owls. Phil Pain uses Sooty for educational purposes, taking her to conservation functions and schools so that the next generation can experience her wonderment.

Appreciating that it’s hard to be motivated to protect a species you’ve never met, Phil allows people to get up close to Sooty, and I’ve personally witnessed the delight she brings to people young and old, and how that joyous experience translates to genuine care for wildlife.

Lesser Sooty Owls were once considered to be a sub-species of their close cousins the Sooty Owl but taxonomists have since recognised them as a distinct species. They are considered by many to be the prettiest representative of the genus Tyto (owls that have the divided heart-shape facial disc).

Lesser Sooty Owls live in the tropical rainforests of North-Eastern Queensland. They are unable to build a true nest and instead depend on tree crevices to roost in.

They have the most amazing call described as the sound of a “falling bomb”.

LesserSootyOwl_map