Friday, December 20, 2013


Handing my last assignment into the office signified the end of a long university year and the beginning of a nine day photographic expedition. Minutes after handing the paper in, I was heading South down State Highway One full of anticipation and buzzing with excitement. 

I planned to spend the first few days around Lake Tekapo, in hope of photographing nesting wrybill, Australasian crested grebes, and of course the rare and endangered black stilts. When I arrived at the campgrounds that evening, I was surprised to spot four rare creatures feeding at the edge of the lake, usually solitary creatures, four wildlife photographers were gathered at the lake's edge. It was nice catching up with Glenda Rees, Craig McKenzie and Tim Rumble & Nick Rumble and we happily chatted the night away about bird photography. The next few days presented opportunities to photograph nesting and brooding wrybill, black stilts and Australasian crested grebes. An elusive marsh crake also made an welcome appearance. 

Above: Wrybill nest: Nothing more than a scrape in the ground, a wrybill stands over a solitary egg.

Above: A male wrybill, broods its young chick. Note: The curved bill that gives the wrybill its' name.

Sporting a sideways turning bill, the endemic wrybill (Anarhynchus frontalis) or ngutuparore is one of New Zealand’s bird oddities – the only bird in the world with such a feature. It uses the bill like a hook to gather insect larvae and eggs from beneath stones, or as a spoon to scoop crustaceans from mud. It's hard to estimate the population of these small cryptic plovers, wintering flocks suggest a total population of 5000-5500, although counts show high variability (which obscures trends); unfortunately the population is believed to be declining.

Brooding Mother: A young chick seeks shelter from its mother. 

After a few days around Lake Tekapo, I headed South towards Lake Pukaki, in the hope of photographing New Zealand's original 'All Blacks', the black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae), which are an extremely rare endemic bird (found only in New Zealand). Māori call these rare birds Kakī and regard them as a taonga – a living treasure. I always feel extremely fortunate to photograph these birds in their natural habitat. Kakī have black and white plumage until the age of 18 months when they acquire their black plumage. In 1981 kakī numbers declined to a low of just 23 birds, and thanks to the continuing efforts and intensive management their are currently approximately 100 birds. 

  Above: An adult black stilt in full adult plumage.
 Above and below: Two young black stilts mate. Black stilts are known to mate for life.
Above: The male drapes his wing over the female as they cross bills in a stylised mating ritual.

Along with wrybill and black stilts, New Zealand's braided rivers provide important nesting grounds for another of New Zealand's rare and endemic birds, New Zealand's original 'Black Caps', the black-fronted tern. These stylish small terns sport a stunning blue-grey coat which is contrasted by their black cap and bright orange beak and legs. There is an estimated population of between 5,000 - 10,000 individuals. When nesting their diet consists of emerging nymph and subimago mayflies, fish, earthworms, grass grub larvae and skinks etc.

Above: An adult black-fronted tern in full breeding plumage. 
Above: An adult and small chick on the nest, their nests are simple scrapes amongst river stones. 

I couldn't venture South without visiting my old friends, the fiordland crested penguins. I arrived a little later on in the nesting season this year, which revealed a different side to these photogenic penguins. Arriving a little later meant that most chicks were close to leaving their nesting sites. It was a thrill to witness a few young, adventurous penguins making their way to the ocean for possibly their first time. For the young penguins the beach was like a playground, the pebbles, boulders, and water provided exiting new experiences.
 Above: Holding Hands: Fiordland crested penguins make their way to the ocean after an evening at the nest. 
Above: A young fiordland crested penguin strolls down to the beach.

Above: A young adventurous fiordland crested penguin plays in a puddle.

On the way back to Christchurch, I payed a quick visit to another, perhaps less known New Zealand endemic, the fernbird. Fernbirds inhabit wetlands throughout New Zealand, but are rarely seen because of their secretive nature.

Fernbirds are closely related to the grassbirds Megalurus of Australia, and can be identified by their loose and tattered fern-like tail.

Regarded as tapu, Māori revered the Fernbird as an "oracle" or "Wise bird" (Manu tohu). The calls of the bird were interpreted as heralding success or failure in daily activities such as fishing but on a more serious level could also portend prosperity and health or disaster and death. Fernbirds were also offered as a sacrifice when the Maori returned home from an unsuccessful war. Right: Fernbird with nesting material.

In January 2014, I will be exhibiting some photographs at the Amuri Community Arts Gallery in Hanmer Springs. I will be hanging the exhibition on the 4th of January and will be personally there from the 4th - 6th of January. So if you are up in that direction or feel like a day trip to the picturesque Hanmer Springs come have a look and a chat. 

January 2014   |   Amuri Community Arts Gallery   |   Cheltenham St, Hanmer Springs, Hurunui
 Below: 2014 Range of Jonathan Harrod Photography business cards.
Thanks for viewing!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kāruhiruhi PIED SHAG

This year has seen me go back to university, where I am currently 12 months through a 15 month graduate teaching diploma through the University of Canterbury. This year's busy schedule has meant that my photography has been put on the back burner, and apart from a few brief trips, I've been running on the pedagogical treadmill. So naturally I've had an itchy shutter finger, and been dreaming of pointing the camera at some of my avian friends.

Although my photography has slowed down, there has been some photographic progressions. This year I received an Associateship through the Nature Photography Society of New Zealand (ANPSNZ) and the Photographic Society of New Zealand (APSNZ). I also received honours in this years Trenna Packer Salver for my 'Sea Lion Stare-down' image. My exhibitions have continued and I will be showcasing some images in Hanmer Springs in January 2014.

As the last few weeks of university came to an end, I managed to photograph a local pied shag pair (Phalacrocorax varius) as they brought up their three rapidly growing chicks. What a joy to be able to observe the pair as they built their nest, fed their chicks and interacted with one another. I really enjoy just sitting and watching nesting birds, it's amazing what you see and learn. 

What surprised me when watching this particular pair was the nest building. I was surprised to witness the chicks aiding their parents in nest construction and maintenance. I've witnessed a juvenile Australasian crested grebe aid parents with nest construction for a second clutch, although I have never observed chicks nest build while still nest bound. 

The adult would bring an offering of nest material, usually a stick, and would be greeted by it's nesting partner, who would often throw its head back and commence in a 'yawn' like greeting. The stick would be passed from adult to adult and occasionally to the chicks who would place and fasten the stick to the nest (family team work). 

I hope you enjoy the images below...

As soon as my last assignment was submitted I packed the bags and embarked on a nine day photo trip... photos to come.... keep an eye out!   

Above: Commonly described as "wing-drying" the adult dries it's wings after feeding. Note: Breeding colours present around the eye.

A whole new world: two young chicks peer out of the nest inspecting their new surroundings under their parent's watchful eye.

Begging for a feed: two young chicks beg for a feed, triggering a regurgitation reflex.

Sheltering from the elements: with a soft new down, the young chicks, shelter on a chilly evening.

With its head completely enveloped, a rapidly growing chick receives a stomach full of fish.

Nest construction - a family affair: A stick is passed down to the chick to place on the nest. 

Messy eater: A couple of fish miss their intended target.

Greetings: Greeted by a "yawn", an adult returns to the nest for a swapping of nesting duties.

'Ginger shag': When photographing the' pied shags' I was visited by this strange looking 'little pied shag'.

...Thanks for viewing...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Australasian Crested Grebes, Lake Lyndon


For those who missed seeing some of my 'Wild Aotearoa' exhibition at the Green Room Cafe it is now showing at the Restaurant@Rossendale. Rossendale is a beautiful winery situated just outside of Christchurch. So if you want to go and have a nosy and one of their famous Rieslings go and have a look!  

Rossendale Winery: 136 Old Tai Tapu Road Christchurch 8025    |  

It was love at first sight when I first laid eyes on the magnificently handsome Australasian Crested Grebes or kāmana as they are known in Maori. Kāmana have captivated and intrigued me for the last few years. These birds belong to an ancient order of diving water birds found on every continent in the world. They are renowned for their mating displays and the way young grebes ride among plumage on the back of their swimming parents. Three of the 22 species in this order have become extinct in the last 30 years, and unfortunately Australasian crested grebes are endangered here in New Zealand with approximately 300-400 birds remaining. 

|   Australasian Crested Grebe Nest   |   Lake Lyndon   |   18mm   |   1/320sec   |   f/13   |   ISO500   |   

When I heard there was a pair of Australasian Crested Grebes nesting at Lake Lyndon, in the Canterbury high country I couldn't help but have a look. Lake Lyndon is a relatively small alpine lake and has little to no substantial tree cover except for a few stunted willows, this makes finding the birds relatively easy. I took a trip up to the Lake one Saturday afternoon in hope of having a 'reccy' and locating the nest. The lake was quite busy due to weekend activities and finding the birds proved extremely difficult... they weren't in their usual nesting locations and I began to wonder if I was I too late? Had the nest failed? Were the birds laying low due to the increased human activity on the lake? As the sun set behind the mountains I decided to give up the search and have some dinner... I pulled up to the quiet side of the lake and set up my camp stove; as the water was boiling I noticed some movement in one of the small willows right in front of where I was sitting - I had managed to park within 50 metres of this interesting grebe's nest!

What was particularly surprising was that this nesting pair had already successfully brought up a healthy juvenile and had decided to nest again. It is not uncommon for grebes to re-nest after a failed nest attempt, but to re-nest while looking after a rapidly growing youngster was unusual, in fact I haven't heard of this behaviour before. Furthermore, it was helping its parents build the new nest for its younger siblings. WOW! It would watch its parent dive to collect weeds and twigs to place on the nest, and then copy its parents by placing small bits of weed onto the nest itself. What an amazing privilege to watch this interesting learning behaviour in front of my very eyes! Unfortunately the light was now well behind the mountains to the West and photography was out of the question!
|   Australasian Grebe with Juvenile in the Morning fog   |   Lake Lyndon   |   390mm   |   1/400sec   |   f/7.1   |   ISO640   |

I had to get back up there to see if I could photograph these amazing birds! I was able to free up a couple of days around Waitangi Day. I drove up to the lake after work and spent an extremely disrupted sleep in the back of the car due to high winds and cool high country temperatures - I woke to the sound of a couple of angry skylarks chasing a sly stoat around outside the car. Rain, mist and howling winds made for less than desirable photographic conditions and what was worse was that one of the adult birds and the juvenile were nowhere to be seen. I spent the day watching the nest from a distance hoping to see the two birds return and relieve the poor incubating parent who looked as if it had a rougher night than me. The day slowly disappeared and still no sign of the missing birds - I was beginning to lose hope as I had seen a grebe predated on this lake a couple of years back and began to wonder if the stoat had got to one or both of the birds. At around 6pm that evening I was elated when I saw from a distance two grebes returning to the nesting site - yes they had finally returned after perhaps spending the whole day sheltering from the strong winds... I imagined how happy the incubating parent would have been to see these two return. Once back, there was a little socialising and some nesting building before a change of incubating duties...phew! The sky was dark and the wind still made it difficult to get any decent shots so I happily watched the grebe family while enjoying a cuppa - I would hopefully get some better weather and some photo opportunities tomorrow.
I awoke early to a still, quiet, foggy morning; the sun had not yet broken the horizon and I was relieved to see all three birds around the nesting site. As the light started to appear through the fog I was able to get to work capturing the grebes in the mist (above). The fog, light and calm conditions made it possible to create some interesting images of the nesting (below).
|   Australasian Crested Grebe's Nest   |   18mm   |   1/80sec   |   f/11   |   ISO640   |

The sun began to slowly burn off the fog, creating one of the most beautiful high country mornings I have ever experienced! Soon there was enough light to capture the grebes carrying all sorts of interesting nesting materials (below).
|   Australasian Crested Grebe with nesting material   |   360mm   |   1/640sec   |   f/7.1   |   ISO400   | 
|   Australasian Crested Grebe with nesting material   |    175mm   |   1/640sec   |   f/7.1   |   ISO400   |
|   Juvenile Australasian Crested Grebe stretching    |    420mm   |   1/1000sec   |   f/7.1   |   ISO400   | 

As the sun rose and the temperature increased the fog totally lifted and revealed a beautiful high country day. The juvenile grebe was extremely inquisitive and happily preened, hassled its busy parents, stretched (above) and played in the clean and cool alpine waters of Lake Lyndon. Australasian Crested Grebes' legs sit well back on their bodies which make them extremely strong swimmers. As a result the grebes spend their entire lives on the water and they are extremely awkward on land. I spent the afternoon photographing the grebe family -what a wonderful way to spend Waitangi Day. Even though the trip had started off a little rough these special moments made the trip worthwhile. NZ scaups, black-backed gulls, shags, pied stilts, south island pied oystercatchers (SIPOs), banded dotterels, skylarks, NZ pipits, and harriers also resided on the Lake. I managed to snap this SIPO (below) as it had a lazy stretch on Waitangi Day!
|   South Island Pied Oystercatcher Stretching  |   390mm   |   1/640sec   |   f/7.1   |   ISO500   |
|   Australasian Crested Grebe Eggs   |   Lake Lyndon   |
Last Friday morning I returned to Lake Lyndon with a few friends in hope of photographing the grebes with their newly hatched chicks. We arrived up at the Lake to find three cold abandoned eggs! It is always upsetting as a photographer and conservationist to witness an abandoned nest, especially when you watch firsthand the effort that the parents put into building and incubating. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon occurrence in nesting grebes. In fact an extremely high percentage of nests failed this year in Lake Pearson and Lake Lyndon! Strong winds, choppy waves  and rising lake levels can often flood grebe's nests and wash generated by motorised watercraft can also swamp nests and destroy eggs. Noise and predators can scare adult birds off their nests and leave chicks exposed to the cold or predators. The water levels in the Lake were much lower than the week before and had left the nest vulnerable to land based predators. We wondered whether over inquisitive people or animals such as stoats, cats or raptors had scared the adults off the nest.
Thanks for stopping by! A previous Australasian Grebe Blog can be viewed here: 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

AUSTRALIA 2012/2013 

The diversity and colours of Australia's wildlife makes Australia an exciting place to photograph. I had the opportunity to spend some time over Christmas in Australia visiting family and enjoying some rest and relaxation - which involved some photography of course!!!

My grandparents live approximately 1 hr south of Sydney, close to some wonderful birding opportunities! One great birding spot is Lake Illawarra, I was amazed at the amount of bird-life on the lake and enjoyed photographing many species for the first time. I always enjoy flicking through the Australian bird book and identifying birds for the first time...

The first species I photographed were great egrets or white herons as they are known in NZ. I love photographing these elegant birds, as they stalk their prey with grace and finesse and strike with pin point accuracy.

One particular species I wanted to photograph was the red-capped plover/dotterel, a beautiful little shorebird endemic to Australia. I found a small number roosting at the entrance to the lake thanks to some information from Charles Dove a local birder/bird photographer and member of the Illawarra bird observers club. I loved how the dried kelp mirrored the lovely auburn colours on the bird's cap so I tried to incorporate this in the photograph below.

I made a point to carry my camera wherever I went in case a photographic opportunity showed itself. I was pleasantly surprised when I found an eastern yellow breasted robin's nest on a family trip to the beautiful Hyams Beach, an area which seemed to have a huge abundance of wildlife. I had a great time watching and photographing the robin family for the afternoon as the adults fed their three hungry chicks. Carrying the camera really paid off!!

This beautiful little nest is made from bark shreds and spiders web, lined with grass and leaves, adorned with bark, lichen and moss. The eastern yellow robin is such a stunning little bird with a wonderful bright yellow breast, and it's soft squealing whistles are a welcome sound in the bush.


WOW, a new year! I'm still left wondering where 2012 got to, it seems like the year has flown by so fast. I don't know about you, but I find this time of year a good time to reflect on a year past and plan for the year ahead. What are my goals and aspirations for 2013? There may be many goals involving your employment, fitness, family, house, holidays... but have you set yourselves any plans for your photography? Have you set any photography goals or aspirations?

"Think first about the photo you want to capture, if you shoot first and think later that's a snapshot not a photo" (Frans Lanting). I really like this quote and think it rings  particularly true for wildlife photography! I'm sure that many, if not all of you have envisaged elaborate photographs in your head that you would love to capture... I have one had one in my head of a New Zealand kingfisher diving into the water after it's prey for some time now.

I think it is extremely beneficial for us as photographers to set ourselves achievable goals or projects... perhaps capturing a particular species, behaviour or location. I think it helps to be pro-active photographers, creating that special moment, not just hoping that it will come along! I know that wildlife in particular can be often unpredictable, and sometimes its very much about being in the right place at the right time, although there are steps that can greatly increase your chances of being there to capture that special moment when it happens. Things like researching your subject, asking yourself questions like, when is my subject most active?, how do the tides affect my subject or it's location?, what does my subject feed on?, what are my subjects favorite feeding, roosting or bathing spots?...etc

How do you tackle your photography? Do you have a shot in mind before you get behind your camera? Whether you are a professional photographer or a weekend snapper a little pre-thought can dramatically improve your photography! Whether or not you capture that elaborate envisaged photograph or not, you'll learn a lot and have a heap of fun!!!