Once again, the standard of entries in this competition has been impressive, to say the least. With the competition being relatively non-prescriptive this time, in some ways it has been even harder for me to judge than the previous ‘Small in the Landscape’.  I’ve made my selections on very much a personal level, and for me aesthetics takes precedence over the strictly technical aspects of an image.

The next Mystery Reviewer may well have a different approach! Of course, when you manage to combine technical and aesthetic excellence all in the one image, those are the magical moments we all strive for. These moments may be as fleeting as the birds themselves, and let’s face it, bird photography can be equal parts massive frustration and amazing rewards!

If you read my review of the Birds In My Backyard entry level competition, you’ll note I have encouraged the photographers not to be afraid of pushing their cameras to the limits of their sensor’s capabilities. The technical advances in DSLR sensors are now enabling a level of low-light, high ISO photography that was previously unheard of only a few years ago.  One such example is amongst my five Special Mention images below, namely Robert Black’s Golden Bowerbird, an image captured at 12,800 ISO.  Yes, it’s a bit noisy. Yes, it’s a little soft due to the unavoidable shutter speed. But hey, he got the shot, and he should be rightly proud of it! Of course these days 12,800 ISO is by no means the limit of what can be used in many cameras, and this opens up many exciting opportunities to wildlife photographers. So get out there, set your sights high, and push the boundaries!

Five Special Mentions

Lovely Fairy-wren by Paul Jensen.  Exquisitely dappled lighting, glorious colours, and a very fine capture of a constantly-moving tiny wren. There is a painterly quality to this image that really appeals to my sense of aesthetics. The metallic blue cheek feathers are beautifully rendered, it’s a tiny shame that the wren’s bill is a little lost amongst the dark tone of the branch behind it. A small amount of dodging and burning in Photoshop would quickly rectify that. Nonetheless, a super shot, congratulations Paul.

Superb Parrot by Wilson Lennard.  Beautiful shot, although discounted from my final five due to Wilson’s other entries in the Entry Level competition. Gorgeous light, nice narrow landscape cropping, I’m sure many of the viewers would rate this, well, superb!

Golden Bowerbird by Robert Black.  Excellent framing composition, unfortunately the image is a bit soft due to the relatively slow shutter speed in combination with the long focal length, but it is an excellent example of using a very high ISO (of 12,800!) to ‘get the shot’.  Without a tripod, this is about as good as Robert could have managed hand-held, given the obvious low level of ambient light.  However, well done for using the camera to its’ potential.

Tawny Frogmouth by Murray Chambers.  Very striking head study portrait, the eyes have enormous impact. I really love the crisp sharpness of the focus. The only issue I have with this image is that the competition calls for birds in ‘a natural environment’, and knowing that the froggie is perched on a railing by a backyard pool is possibly beyond such a definition.  But, great image nonetheless Murray!

Wedge-tailed Eagle by Jo Malcomson.  A little personal indulgence here, as I always love a strong shot of a majestic wedgie, and this is definitely one. Fabulous eye contact, so typical of the curious juveniles that are far less wary of humans with big lenses, unlike the adult wedgies. The contrasty light  does Jo no favours, but in this case the boldness of the light is in keeping with the eagle’s character. The immaculate plumage, the relaxed power of flight, super shot!

Lovely Fairy-wren (Paul Jensen) Superb Parrot (Wilson Lennard) Golden Bowerbird (Robert Black) Tawny Frogmouth (Murray Chambers) Wedge-tailed Eagle (Jo Malcomson)

My Final Five Selections

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo by Belinda Rafton.  Dramatic light, the shadow mimicking the form of the crest, is wonderful as are the yellow flowers mimicking the sulphur-coloured feathers of the cockatoo. Although this is a ‘busy’ composition, the elements of colour and form linking the cockatoo to its immediate surroundings make for a clever image. Crucially, Belinda has managed to prevent the brightest tones in the cockatoo from blowing out, all too easy to do with a white bird in bright contrasty light. A portrait full of energy!

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Belinda Rafton)

Grey Butcherbird by Roger Williams.

It may surprise many of you, but Roger’s butcherbird might just be my absolute pick of the entire competition. Sometimes an image genuinely moves you, although you can’t quite put your finger on just exactly why! The relaxed pose, the subtle, elegant tones than seem to flow from bird, to the charcoaled perch, to the soft non-descript background, and then back again, it’s a quietly constructed masterpiece of a portrait. Even the highlight in the eye has a softness about it, so fitting.

Could it be improved? Yes, it could lose just a little of the negative space at the bottom of frame to balance it perfectly, but ...

Grey Butcherbird (Roger Williams)


 Laughing Kookaburra by Ander Guinea.  A stunning, dramatic portrait. The bright pinline around the partially illuminated eye is remarkable; it’s one of those freakish elements that can make or break such an intense image, and in this case I think it’s a definite a plus. Is it just me, or does this bird look quite evil?

Laughing Kookaburra (Ander Guinea)


Regent Bowerbird by Garth Thomas.  Like the kookaburra, another excellent, tightly cropped portrait of an exquisitely beautiful species. Selective focus is perfect, and Garth has astutely ensured that the colours remain rich and saturated by under-exposing 1-EV. Without doing so, the predominantly dark tones would have ‘tricked’ his camera’s light-meter into over-exposing the image, with the consequential loss of the true richness of the bowerbird’s plumage.

Regent Bowerbird (Garth Thomas)


Hardhead by Rodger Scott.  Wow! Although this image has ‘only’ been taken on a small Panasonic FZ200 super-zoom camera, and consequently may be lacking a little of the fine detail that a true DSLR would deliver, there’s just so much I love about this Hardhead image. Firstly, Rodger has clearly identified and planned for this photographic opportunity, and then had the patience to see it through. The graphic nature of the image is remarkable, even down to the colour of the bird’s iris being a near perfect match for the blue water. Additionally, the small streaks of red in the painterly background are for me highly intriguing elements, rather than unwanted distractions.

 Hardhead (Rodger Scott)


Once again, my congratulations to all who have entered this competition. It’s been a real privilege to be the Mystery Reviewer, and best of luck with the next Birdlife Photography competition!