Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

I ordered the Fujifilm XC 50 – 230 lens recently, during an online sale. I have not previously been particularly motivated to engage in long focal-length zoom photography, but the regular visits to our balcony by the wonderful local birds, and the chance to visit a nearby native animal reserve have given me new inspiration. The special offer sealed the deal.

The lens is an entry-level model, with a plastic mount, but otherwise feels well put together. I have been very busy with work-related things, so have not had an opportunity to try it out until today, when a couple of the regulars arrived looking for apple.

I am very pleased with the results so far. Although the lowest f-stop at maximum zoom is 6.7, I was still pretty happy with the sharpness and bokeh.

This image has had minimal editing and is essentially out of the camera. Fujifilm X-E3, 55 – 230 Zoom lens, f6.2 152mm 1/250 ISO200

Along the tracks….

The 5km lockdown restrictions over winter prevented us from visiting one of our favourite walks, along the railway in Mt Eliza. With the slightly eased restrictions, I dropped the boys at school and took the dogs for a walk along the stretch between Mt Eliza and Mornington. It was a lovely day to walk along, a few other people were out with their dogs and all of us enjoyed seeing various native flowers growing trackside. Sadly, there are more than enough weeds too and with the lockdown and the railway not operating, plus a very wet winter, the weeds are well and truly in the ascendancy.

Looking towards Bungower Road, Mornington.
Somebody environmentally minded has taken care to mow around the beautiful native flowers, which looked quite spectacular today.

Nature

I grew up in the suburbs of London. It was polluted and crowded. We had some lovely local parks, but as a child I did not really look for the nature around me and was largely ignorant of the natural world. Our holidays to the countryside were always wonderful, for the sense of space, but once again I rarely embraced the animal world apart from an obsession with dogs and a passing interest in horses and donkeys.

Since moving into adulthood, and particularly through Carolin’s influence initially and later Joshua’s passion for the animal world, I have come to learn much more about nature and embrace and enjoy it.

This morning’s dog walk was wonderful….

As always, being out with the dogs and watching them sniff and investigate is nice. As we crossed the park at the top, I enjoyed the small flowers growing out of the grass and watching little insects fly around them.

In the golf course, the lake was full with water. Really full. A Cormorant, I think, was gliding along with its body beneath the surface and diving from time to time.

As I got to the corner of the lake, some ducklings and their parents set off for a leisurely swim.

In the reserve, there were the usual various birds including some lovely Eastern Rosellas.

As I came back into Dorset Road, a flock of approximately 30 Ibis (I did try to count), came over quite low. I didn’t hear them, it was their shadow on the ground that I noticed and then looked up. I wondered if they were on their way to check out the lake.

As I checked our mailbox, on the driveway, a Blue Tongue scampered back into its burrow. We have four Blue Tongues around the garden.

It’s quite spectacular, Mount Martha.

Mia Cat

In the interests of fairness to all species, the cat warrants a short blog post. We re-homed Mia almost ten years ago. She was the only kitten from an abandoned litter to survive, having been lovingly raised by a veterinary nurse. If I recall correctly, she was less than two years old when we got her. In her kitten days, she was a playful and animated creature. She was not remotely phased by our dog, Micky, and used to roam our house, sunning herself on various ledges.

Mia is congenitally deaf and therefore does not leave the house. In our residential area, cats are also not permitted to leave the property due to the devastating effect they have on native animals of all descriptions. So, over the years she has had little supervised excursions into the garden, which she has not really enjoyed.

As she has got older, she has tended to confine herself to our bedroom, wardrobe and en-suite. This started in the last house and continued to this one. Any efforts to relocate her result in her either running back to the bedroom, or sitting by a door until she is allowed to run back to the bedroom.

We feel bad, as though life must be very boring for her, but it seems to be her choice. As with many cats, significant parts of her day are spent asleep. She goes through phases in terms of how interactive she wants to be with us, but lately she has taken to retiring for the night at the same time as me and parking herself right on top of me. Within seconds of me laying in bed, there’s a woosh as she jumps up to the bed, tramples all over me and then lays down on my chest. Nothing will dissuade her from this….. I’d rather she didn’t, but it doesn’t seem like I have a lot of choice…..

Mia. On my chest.

Schaefer and Willow

Our two German Shepherds keep us pretty busy. Willow, the white dog in the foreground, is a straightforward and very loveable animal, who is extremely affectionate. She settled into our family very quickly, almost four and a half years ago and has overcome some of the fear she must have known in her previous home. She is still a bit skittish around men that she does not know, but she’s never aggressive.

Schaefer turned 10 last week. He is vastly more aloof than Willow, but has moments when he is capable of great affection. He is as stubborn as the day is long, but secretly I quite like that strength of character. The last couple of months, he has been struggling as he does sometimes with his mental health. We have a wonderful vet and around three years ago, after excluding physical conditions, we started Schaefer on fluoxetine (prozac) which worked well. The last six weeks or so, he has begun to develop the same stress behaviours and agitation as before. Once again, a clean bill of health for a ten year old Shepherd meant we had to consider psychiatric treatments and have started him on clonidine.

Clonidine is interesting. It’s a medication I occasionally use in human practice, to settle blood pressure at times and delirium at others. It turns out it is extremely effective in dogs too. I trust our vet and he also took advice from a colleague with greater experience in dog psychiatry, so we are trialling it, but I was apprehensive about how much effect it would have on Schaefer’s anxiety, versus potential side effects such as circulatory ones. I am delighted to report that so far we are only seeing positive effects. Almost no stress behaviours, but the same alert and interactive German Shepherd one would expect and no signs of lethargy, over-sedation or cardiovascular issues. We will remain vigilant, but so far so good.

This image was taken last weekend, after Carolin and I walked down to the beach with the dogs and had a coffee sitting on the wall of the yacht club. The weather was mild. The dogs watched the comings and goings along the beach until it was time to walk back.

Birds

Just last week, these beautiful Lorikeets started to visit our balcony for apple. Quite wonderful to watch. Using the Fujifilm 18 – 55mm lens and moving slowly, I managed to get a number of photos I was pretty pleased with.

The 18 – 55 lens is absolutely phenomenal to use. I could not get over the detail in the birds’ eyes and their feathers.

Lorikeets again....

Spring

Spring in Victoria starts on 1/9, and as if nature knew the date, the weather seemed to change that day. The rain we have had over autumn and winter has mostly abated, the days seem warmer and the sun has been shining quite beautifully.

The Coronavirus lockdown persists and is showing effect in metro Melbourne, which includes our area despite our distance from the city. It’s not too bad for me as I go out to work still, but it is beginning to wear thin for the family. I understand that, because although I go to work, it’s not the same as being able to choose one’s recreation or daily activity. I am sure before too long things will ease as the numbers continue to fall.

This photograph was taken the other morning when I returned home from work after a night shift which included a helicopter trip to collect a regional patient and bring them through to the city. I’m a huge fan of helicopter trips, so it made for a decent shift. I sat here on the balcony with Carolin, had breakfast and a cup of tea in the warmth of the early morning and then retired to bed for a couple of hours.

Hammock on the balcony

Creativity

Apart from an almost unending ability to daydream and a fertile imagination, I don’t think many people who knew me as a youngster would have predicted the passion I have for creativity these days. Along with my photography, which I enjoy immensely, the movie making and writing, I have played guitar for decades. It is probably the most enduring of all of my hobbies. More recently, I am having a good go at learning to play rock Bass too.

In our new recreation room, downstairs, the family’s guitars hang on the wall. The amps are along the floor. I recently took a punt on a new product, via Kickstarter, called a Spark Pro. It’s a solid state, 40W amp with a tiny speaker and a lovely design. The premise of the amp is that as well as being played conventionally, one can use a partner app to emulate various pedal effects and amp tones. It actually works really well. It’s definitely a practice amp, you wouldn’t use it for a show. I stream the song I wish to accompany through it and the guitar or bass blends in really well. It’s a great product and reasonably priced.

Inspired by this amp, rediscovering my rock passion and a friend who recently purchased a Fender Telecaster, I have taken the plunge and purchased my first ever branded guitar. A new Strat is on its way to me, in white. I cannot wait to play it through the Blackstar or the Spark and work on improving my electric rhythm playing.

Meanwhile, a couple of pics of existing guitars.

Study buddy - Explored//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js Telecaster//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Fujinon 27mm Prime

I have three lenses for my X-E3, an 18mm prime, 27mm prime and 18 – 55 zoom. All three are pretty good and the 27mm and 18 – 55 are ridiculous in terms of amazing quality at reasonable prices. The 18mm is a little less impressive and I find I rarely use it nowadays.

The 27mm cost me less than $100, with a cashback offer that ran at the time I purchased it. It is very much my go to lens. As a pancake lens, it’s makes the camera very portable indeed. It even fits in some coat pockets. Much like the camera, it is more lens than I am capable of fully using at my skill level.

COVID has somewhat curtailed my photography, as I feel as though I have captured as much local material as I want to at the moment and stopping whilst going to and from work is not really in the spirit of the lockdown, even for a quick photograph. At the same time, I have mostly caught up on the archive of images from the last few years.

I do still take the camera out on dog walks and occasionally get a nice image. The 27mm is always a strong performer.

Willow Watches

Movie-making

I’ve enjoyed editing home movies since we first had a camcorder in 2001. My early editing career was hampered by not being able to afford the technology to actually import, edit and export the movies but in many ways, this delay has benefitted my work tremendously.

When Carolin & I first got married, we purchased a Panasonic Digital Camcorder which was quite decent spec, recording to MiniDV tape and equipped with a massive optical zoom. The only downside with it was that whilst one could connect it, using firewire, to a computer, it was not possible to export the finished edit back to DV tape. This was purely due to buying the camera in the European Union. My sister purchased a similar camcorder whilst visiting us in Australia a year later, and that model could receive an input signal.

I purchased an iMac in 2002 with an early version of iMovie, but home computers of the time were not up to the processing and storage challenges of managing the massive files involved in digital video. The whole process was intensely laborious, required a huge amount of patience and then the arrival of my sister to visit so that I could export the finished product back to MiniDV, then play it through a VCR in order to watch it again. Of course, putting it on to a video cassette adversely impacted the quality. Whilst at medical school, a colleague who had a background in digital media would lend me her Powerbook Mac laptop with a DVD writer and I could finally burn some movies to DVD, but ultimately it was a very stop/start process until I finally got hold of an iMac with a DVD Writer, an external hard drive and some decent processing power.

About the time that I did obtain sufficient machinery to set about our by now huge MiniDV archive, internet connectivity was getting to the point that made uploading and consuming video sufficiently easy that DVDs were on their way out, almost as quickly as they arrived. At the same time, the camcorder was coming to the end of its useful life both in terms of recording quality and being eclipsed by HD and later 4K video. I can still remember the first time I saw HD in a TV store. I could not imagine anything surpassing it. Then I saw 4K. Fast-forward 20 years from buying that camcorder and most of us now carry 4K capable moving picture cameras in our pockets, home camcorders are never seen and even amateurs who want to film with something other than a phone may well be using a DSLR to do so. (Disclaimer: I have not once activated, or used, the movie function on my XE-3). I have made a couple of short films on my iPhone. The thing that I certainly never saw coming was the 4K capable drone, such as our Mavic Platinum Pro, which blows my mind with its quality and ease of use. Sequences that would have required a helicopter in my youth, even perhaps ten years ago, are now achievable with a sub-$2000 drone!

All in all, I suspect that film-making is one area of my hobbies that has been ably served, in terms of time, by me procrastinating for twenty years or so. The combination of the Panasonic recording quality, lens and the MiniDV format and modern editing and upscaling means that many of our home videos from the children’s early years are quite phenomenal viewing in terms of detail and imaging quality. Had I pushed ahead with transferring them to VHS or even DVD back in the early 2000s, I may have come out with more substandard material than I have now.

The next big jump that has impressed me is the ability of modern Smart TVs to upscale, such that my SD home movies as uploaded to Vimeo are displayed on our 55″ Bravia in amazing quality and do not look like expanded SD. Once again, the work of trying to use software to upscale on the computer is taken away.

A further happy development has been the explosion of film-making on Vimeo and YouTube, which has moved amateurs like me on from funky transitions, crappy titles and dodgy effects, to creating quality pieces that are well edited and not far off of broadcast quality. (I must admit I have a couple of videos that need to be taken back to the drawing room to remove some gimmicky effects). I must also offer particular thank to a chap called Colin Barrett and a number of contributors to a highly successful bulletin board he ran in the early to mid-2000s, called “SimplyDV”. Colin is an immensely successful cinematographer and video producer who has written in print and online about filming and curated an excellent forum that offered numerous tips to enthusiastic beginners and more experienced operators. To this date, I still have not found a board of any sort that is as friendly and informative as that was. As far as I know, Colin is still active with his business, transferring and archiving video for private and commercial customers: http://simplydv.biz

I have set about trying to catch up with our massive archive recently. Reviewing footage remains a time-consuming process, as each MiniDV tape was 60mins (thank goodness I did not switch the LP setting on). The home videos are relatively easy after that, just trim a few clips, cut out some bloopers and create the finished movie. After all, they are for our consumption only. More recently, the stuff we are filming on the drone and phones does require a bit more consideration and I am hoping to actually complete some dedicated film projects.

One of my first, quick, projects the other day was to edit some footage Joshua had taken over the summer at a local hang-out, using the Mavic… He got some impressive stuff, although he could do with keeping things a little more in frame 😉

Enjoy….

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