. Medium-sized images can be viewed by clicking on "nom":
No articles were promoted to featured article status over the past week.
The English Wikipedia is lucky to have several specialist avian photographers; among them, Fir0002
, and Mdf
have been highly successful in building our gallery of featured avian pictures
. But more recently, the most prolific contributor to this category has been JJ Harrison
, also known as Noodle snacks
. JJ, who lives in Tasmania, Australia's island state to the south of the continent, has been a regular nominator and reviewer at featured picture candidates
for some years. In the first of an occasional series of interviews with featured-content creators, The Signpost
spoke to him about his photography.
JJ Harrison on a boat during his recent photographic expedition to Thailand
Featured picture: a White-throated Rock-thrush (Monticola gularis), Khao Yai National Park, Pak Chong, Thailand
Featured picture: a male Plumbeous Water Redstart in Doi Inthanon National Park, Ban Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand. A video
of the same individual features its call.
How it all started. JJ's particular interest in nature photography was driven by an abiding interest in animal behaviour and a passion for watching wildlife. "I had a few favourite experiences, but they were more to do with observing wildlife than photographing it. I'll always remember some of those early encounters. Like seeing a wild Spotted-tail Quoll bound around the New Pelion Hut in the alpine central highlands of Tasmania—but frustratingly, the right photographic equipment was days' walk away. Or watching a Black-faced Cormorant fish a few metres underneath me as I was snorkelling—but no underwater camera! Or the amazing sight of thousands of waders and shorebirds in Thailand—often in the distance. And I've had a Yellow-throated Honeyeater steal a lock of my hair to use in building its nest." But he warns that some of his memorable experiences haven't been so pleasant. "I get bitten by members of what are commonly known as bull ants pretty regularly, and I've come fairly close to stumbling on poisonous snakes a few times."
So how did JJ learn the art and technique of nature photography? "I guess you could say I'm an autodidact; the internet has been a particularly useful source of information. The reviewers at featured picture candidates gave valuable technical feedback, although while that trains you to identify problems, it doesn't directly teach good technique. I guess the big one is field craft, which requires you to develop knowledge about your subjects, including the best locations and times of year to photograph them. But even knowing these things doesn't allow you to predict what will happen when you go out: you might have a vague idea of what to expect for a given habitat, but usually you can't predict specifically what you'll come across."
JJ settled on birds as his primary interest because they're the most challenging subject he has tried. "The biggest hurdle is that most of them are small, and afraid of you." But the technical problems of photographing birds in the wild go beyond the subjects themselves: "The best times of day are dawn and dusk, and many species can be found only in low-light environments. This throws up many challenges. Even at high ISOs, the slightest camera or subject movement will result in motion blur. My solution is to shoot lots of photos with a remote shutter release; I might get only a few sharp frames out of dozens."
Thailand. During February, JJ spent several weeks in Thailand photographing birds. There he captured images of species that have no coverage at all on Commons, and in some cases no article on Wikipedia. These images have since been trickling through to the nominations page at featured picture candidates as he's processed his work—selecting, uploading, categorising the images, and allocating them to articles on the English Wikipedia. "I knew from experience at home that my chances of finding the best spots were basically nil in two weeks. So the critical thing was to find and engage a local professional bird guide. His name's Reang, and he has expertise in the birds of Thailand; he's been a guide for more than eight years and speaks reasonably good English."
The Thai jungle they visited is very dense, and this made photography difficult due to low light conditions and the dense foliage that physically obscures the subjects. This effect was exaggerated because JJ was "blind" as far as recognising bird calls goes: "that's where Reang's skills were really important", he says. The other technical novelty for JJ was shooting from a boat. "This was not something I’d tried much before, and it has its own challenges. Any boat movement is greatly exaggerated with a telephoto lens. I spent about two days taking photographs from boats. The first time we started here and journeyed down a coastal river for a few kilometres and out into the ocean. The second time we started here, on a sort of lake with rice fields on the edges." (See the picture at the right, of JJ with telephoto lens on the boat about 15 minutes after starting from the side of that lake. Lotus plants can be seen either side of the wake.)
From land, he took some of the photos from inside a car: "birds ignore cars, but take flight if you get out (I shoot from a car at home occasionally, too). But there were opportunities outside from the roadside too, particularly at Kaeng Krachan, where we walked along trails. At that location, there seemed to be only bird watchers and photographers—mostly Thais. We also spent quite a lot of time in portable hunting blinds in areas birds frequent, such as drinking holes and the ubiquitous rubbish dumps, which contain food scraps that attract birds but, ultimately, are damaging the intricate ecosystem.
Queensland. JJ undertook a photographic trip to the northeastern part of the continent in July. This involved travelling to Cairns and from there along the coast, which is mainly rainforest. Because the moisture content of the habitat is dramatically reduced away from the coast, his work extended to the very different bird species that can be found up to 50 kilometres (30 mi) inland. His output from this trip is now making its way to the featured picture candidates page. Two successful nominations are displayed at the top of this section.
Ethical considerations. JJ says you need to be conscious of the ethics of photographing wildlife. "It mostly pertains to both your subjects and their environment. Feeding birds is usually a bad idea: it will probably help feral species out-compete native species; long-term feeding may also cause dependence among wildlife species, increase competition for (nesting) tree hollows, and spread disease. (I have used bait, but only for one night each in different locations—kangaroo pellets for the Eastern Bettong and Eastern Barred Bandicoot photographs.) Be careful not to damage the environment itself—don’t trample vegetation. In certain areas it's important to wash your shoes and tripod to prevent the spread of disease. Don’t move closer to birds if they're showing signs of stress. If they do fly away, don’t repeatedly follow them. You can get closer by moving slowly and using natural cover; and do avoid loitering around nesting birds."
We asked whether there are differences in the practice of wildlife photography in Thailand compared with what he's used to: "The same broad practical and ethical considerations apply, but every species is different—I wasn’t there long enough to really learn the nuances in behaviour among species. One thing I became aware of is that the use of recorded bird calls to attract subjects into position is much more prevalent. Recordings should be used sparingly in my view. And it seemed that far fewer species in Thailand depend on seeds or nectar, and that feeding on fruit is more common than in many parts of the world."
Opportunities for Wikimedians. Much of JJ's photography involves Tasmanian wildlife. Does he plan to widen his geographical purview? "I don't expect I'll live in Tasmania forever—to start with, I'll need to move for postgraduate studies in the next few years. I've probably been able to get featured images for about a third of the bird species in the state (and less than that for mammals), so there's still plenty of work to be done. Please, we need more photographers contributing to Wikimedia sites, and more editors collaborating with them to write articles." JJ says that Wikimedia has good photographic coverage, and usually at much better resolution than Flickr, in which only 800 × 500 px is typical. "However, the distribution of featured pictures is patchy. For example, I'm surprised how little coverage there is for western Europe and North America. There's lots to be done just about everywhere." He says many Wikimedians don't realise how well-positioned they are to photograph wildlife in other parts of the world. "Once you start to identify species, you'd be surprised just how many are around you. Pay attention to bird calls—they're more useful than your eyes for locating subjects."
Next in this occasional series of interviews: Wehwalt, one of the English Wikipedia's most experienced writers of featured articles.
Radjah Shelduck, Centenary Lakes, Cairns, Queensland. Seen from above in flight the birds have green bands on the tops of their wings. The female has a harsh rattle and the male has a breathy whistle. The Radjah Shelduck inhabits the mangrove forests and coastlines of New Guinea, and in Australia, where it is a protected species.