White-winged fairy-wren male perched
A mature male white-winged fairy-wren in full breeding regalia. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

The things we do to get ‘the shot’

The white-winged fairy wren has always been a ‘bird of interest’, but although quite common across Australia’s arid centre, they can be devilish difficult to photograph well.

At around 12 cm, they are one of the smallest fairy-wrens. The male in his cobalt blue-and-white breeding plumage is a sight to behold, but they don’t stay still for long.

Getting quality shots of this wren was a priority for my most recent visit (September) to the AWC’s Bowra wildlife sanctuary near Cunnamulla. And although it is fair to say, ‘mission accomplished’, the objective wasn’t achieved without a degree of pain and personal embarrassment.

Piles of fence wire

Having seen the white-winged fairy-wrens on all previous visits, I knew roughly where they would be – in overgrown piles of fence wire and broken posts near the main gate to the property.

Experience had also taught me that, once located, it was best to adopt a low profile and wait for the birds to rise up from their tangled lair to start foraging over the surrounding sun-baked, seemingly seedless ground.

My trusty travelling birding mate Norton (Norty) Gill spotted a mature male almost immediately – perched high on his castle of wire and making it clear to his clan of females and immatures below that intruders were about.

White-winged fairy-wren male perched on a tumbleweed
A tumbleweed provides a perfect observation perch for the dominant male. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

A lower profile

Time to sit and wait. Wise old Norty had brought his little camp stool, but I preferred a lower profile and put a hand down to ease myself and the Canon 600mm quietly to the ground. Yikes! (or words to that effect). The palm of my right hand and my backside were instantly pierced by bindi thorns.

The seed burs of the bindi (Soliva sessilis) are so sharp and strong that they can puncture a bike tyre, so quick-dry bush pants were no protection for my nether region.

But as long as I didn’t make any sudden movements, the bindis in the bum were tolerable. However, to operate the camera, immediate surgery on the hand was required. Suffice to say the burs were extracted – sort of. Tweezers would have been handy.

Procession of females

As we settled down, a procession of females, male eclipses, juveniles and the resident breeding male soon emerged and began hopping and making short, dashing flights around us. The show lasted about 15 minutes and some of the photographic results accompany this piece.

And then there was the backside full of bindis to address. As a local farmer’s ute raced down the nearby road, there we were: a couple of old guys in the middle of a southern Queensland paddock, one bent double while the other delivered him a major slapping about the buttocks. Should have made for a good conversation at the local pub that afternoon.

©Natural Images 2019

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3 thoughts on “A BIT OF A PAIN

  • Ian Gibson November 13, 2019 at 2:23 PM Reply

    Great photos Tony. It was good to cross paths again recently.
    Cheers Ian

  • IAN HUGHES November 13, 2019 at 8:19 PM Reply

    Surely ‘slapping the buttocks’ would have driven the bindi thorns in further? Or am I missing something? Quite a bird the white winged fairy wren and such a super pic.
    Re ‘climate change’ you cannot win. You cannot shift the convictions of those who do not believe it is ‘man made’ . That it is changing – generally to disastrous effect- is incontrovertible. Can we do anything to halt or reverse it when we produce carbon on an epic scale in virtually every human activity? I have my doubts. Our recent history is littered with doomsday forecasts. In the 70s the CIA warned we were hurtling towards another devastating ice age. The cause of the man made climate change activists would be better served by less hysteria and less apocalyptic warnings which are repeatedly blowing up in their faces. Think Al Gore and his inconvenient truths… hey another SUPERB issue and as always the quality of the photographs are utterly brilliant. Well done Tony -to he next Tiger – Ian

  • Tony Neilson November 18, 2019 at 4:19 PM Reply

    Thanks Ian, I can always count on you. The ‘slapping’ was more vertical than horizontal, so I suppose “brush’ or ‘swipe’ would have been more accurate verbs. Hang in there, old scout.

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