Tag Archives: photo essay

Of fish and fledglings

IMG_2852_smallThis month I had the pleasure of visiting with family at their lofty and spacious aerie overlooking the vine covered foothills of the Temecula wine country in Southern California. Their home is an expression of their love of nature and space where I always feel my spirit renewing in the glow of their love and the beautiful environment they have built in harmony with with nature.

Nishikigoi of Temecula

A recent addition to this beautiful landscape is a Columbia Water Gardens designed pond in which a healthy community of nishikigoi – beautifully patterned koi fish – patrol crystal clear waters. They are a happy and casual lot, in a riot of colours as you can see from the gallery below – bright whites, oranges, reds, blues, blacks, creams, yellows and so many variations thereof. They co-exist harmoniously and are happy when feeding time comes.

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Star of the pond is the charismatic ‘Patch’ with her pretty blue eyes and bossy ways, and she seems to have had some success with reproducing if the markings on some of the younger fish are anything to go by.



I love Patch, but there are two others who are a bit more elusive that catch my eye too. One I’ve named Tiger because of the large black strip on its back.


The other  (yet more elusive) favourite is the one I have named ‘Garnet’ for the way its colours flash orange and black like a spessartine garnet as it swims.


Young Garnet (mid-top left) with Tiger (far right) and a few other mates

I could have photographed them for hours.  Come to think of it, I may have done.

Western Bluebird family

As I rounded the pond photographing the fascinating fish,  I noticed that above the purr of rushing water was a ceaseless cheeping sound, and discovered to my delight a young fledgling bird poking its head out of a nearby birdbox.  It was, I later discovered, a baby Western Bluebird, and it had two siblings, and two harried parents working full time to feed the growing chicks.


Western Bluebird nestlings

The family of bluebirds was unafraid of us, and soon I was in the enviable position of being unable to decide which direction to turn my camera lens: towards the chicks and the adults tending to them, or the fluid colourful motions of the koi. I did my best to photograph both of these special scenes.


Decisions, decisions

Photo Effects

Later, as I flicked through the results, I was drawn to the interesting photo effects that occurred in several of the photographs.

The light illuminating the  wings of the bluebirds made them seem like angels’ wings.




In a different way, the light effects in the photos of the fish in the water also caught my attention.  I particularly like this photograph of Patch, in which the light bending in the water makes her look otherworldly.


Watercolour photographs

A few of the photographs were so affected by colour reflections and water swirls that they were little more than a cacophany of colour, with just enough structure to suggest flowers, foliage and fish.  The light in these photos was bouncing off of flowers and fish, following lines in the water’s surface cut by the koi as they slipped and swirled in the pond.


These photographs  were for me an epiphany. They were the first images (photo or painting) that truly allowed me to understand Monet’s watercolour paintings.


I always thought Claude Monet simply showed us his impressions of the world around us, but I can see now that he could truly see moments of liquid light in our real world that I had never consciously seen myself. And he didn’t have the benefit of freeze-frame photography.  He truly was a master of his craft and vision.  And now I will be better able to see the watercolour moments around me.

And this is where I leave the happy band of fish and fledglings. Until next time!



All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell, May 2016. Other than the 3 crops noted below, and overall resizing for web use, no alterations have been done to any of the photographs.

Watercolour photographs were cropped to focus on the watercolour effect and Western Bluebird nestlings photograph was cropped to allow greater visibility of the chicks in the photo.








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Matched set – busy waterbirds

Don’t we love to watch the serenity of a duck floating on a pond or a cormorant contentedly drying itself with spread wings in the afternoon sun? But waterbirds are actually very busy creatures who must keep warm and dry in the midst of their watery world, raise families, be social, fly from place to place in search of amenable climates and food sources, keep a wary eye out for predators and compete for food.  This matched set of photos attempts to illuminate some of this hustle and bustle.

Swan family on an outing at Floriade

The first time I saw a black swan I was startled; I didn’t know they could be black.  I looked at the graceful neck of the glossy black bird and its smooth progress across a still lake in a Sydney park and knew it could be nothing other than a swan, but not as I knew them.

Australian Black Swans are native to Australia and New Zealand, and were unknown to western civilisation until 1697 when Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh discovered them in the Western Australian river he later named Swan River. Later, in 1790 John Latham, a noted English naturalist formally described them.[1] It seems that before their discovery, a truism used in Europe was “all swans are white.” Australian Black Swans certainly played havoc with that saying.

The photograph below is of a mother (known as a ‘pen’) and her four young cygnets swimming in Canberra’s Lake Burly Griffen.  The father (the ‘cob’), while not in this photo, was nearby. I love the way the cygnets look so unaware and distracted – it says a lot about how difficult a job it must be for the parents.

Swan family on an outing at Floriade

Australian Black Swan and her cygnets on an outing on Lake Burly Griffen during Floriade

Sleeping with one eye open

Sleeping with one eye open, Ducks resting at the side of Sullivan's Creek, The Australian National University

Sleeping with one eye open, Ducks resting at the side of Sullivan’s Creek, The Australian National University

I came upon these Australian Wood Ducks resting by Sullivan’s Creek at The Australian National University. I took the photo in 1999, but it could be any day at ANU because these ducks are a well-loved feature of the landscape.

I have always liked this photo because of the contrast between the alert eye and the sleeping position of the duck on the left, as well as the guarding position of the duck on the right. While humans are seldom a threat, they are vulnerable to foxes, dogs and cats.

Clearly, even while slumbering a duck needs to be aware of its surroundings.  And it helps to have a mate.

Navigating the world of man

Navigating the world of man, Geese crossing a country road

Navigating the world of man,
geese crossing a rainy country road

Every animal in the world, geese included, evolved in the absence of roads and cars.

These Pilgrim Geese waddled across the road in front of our car with only the tiniest of acceleration after seeing us.

Fortunately they live on a very slow road by a 90 degree bend winding through a rural Australian town and are likely seldom in danger.

After meandering across to the other side, they began nibbling in the grass and ignored our presence.

A Silver Gull takes wing

I entitled this last photograph A Silver Gull takes wing because it would be easy to think the gull in the mid-ground of the photo was either flying past or landing. But if you look to its right, you can see the splashes indenting the surface of Tuross Lake where the gull pushed off on takeoff. I took this photo from a boat dock where fishermen were cleaning their catch. These Australian Pelicans and Silver Gulls knew well that tasty tidbits could be expected to be thrown to them and were making their way over. The yellow rings around the eyes of the pelicans indicate that these two individuals are non-breeding adults.

A Silver Gull takes wing Tuross Lake boat ramp, Tuross Head, NSW

A Silver Gull takes wing
Tuross Lake boat ramp, Tuross Head, NSW

Despite their often bucolic-seeming existence, waterbirds actually live very complex lives.  They are constantly vigilant against threats and on the look out for opportunities.  They need to be fit and resourceful, and need a lot of water, land and air to survive and thrive. Certainly they are deserving of our respect, admiration and conservation.

PHOTOGRAPHS: All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell, and other than resizing for web use, no alterations have been done to the photographs.


[1] Black Swan, Wikipedia., Accessed 22 March 2014.

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