Saturday 11 November 2017

Shooting wildlife in the digital world

The intrepid Australian Dave-duo are settling into a wee bit of routine in Australia, and developing a team feeling. Dave N takes the photos of the local bird and insect-life and imparts the local knowledge, whilst Dave D composes the artwork.

Forest Kingfisher Darwin Northern Territory Australia by David Norton
Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii), Darwin, NT Australia © David Norton

Forest Kingfisher, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Forest Kingfisher, Northern Territory, Australia

What quickly gets flagged up is my naive (but I would argue, uninfluenced) eye, when it comes to subject matter. I get the impression, when I see something new, and for me, exciting, that I may be getting swept away about the equivalent of the local common sparrow, or pigeon from the UK...two a penny.

Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Scrub fowl, Bush Chook, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) or "Bush Chook", Darwin, NT - Australia

Magpie-lark, Lark, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, the wandering artist
Magpie-Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca), Darwin, NT - Australia

The Orange-footed Shrubfowl (or Bush Chook) and the Magpie-Lark are two examples of this. They are a frequent resident of the Darwin area, and for the Bush Chook, in tropical areas of Australia, and for the Magpie Lark - throughout mainland Australia. They are wonderful birds however!

Finding them frequently may also give me the opportunity to show the animals in a new style and light, by using them in new compositions. In this next case, whilst looking at the Darwin Parliament Building - a wonderful example of art deco style design - popular around Darwin.

Keeping Watch, Parliament House, State Square, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, Magpie-Lark, David Dalzell, The Wandering Artist
"Keeping Watch"

Wandering around the city, I have been able to begin to gain a perspective of the very new, with the very old. Composing "Keeping Watch" felt like the tensions between the ancient and the new, the natural and man-made worlds, and the inherent fragility of both.

The parliament building in Darwin is Australia's newest parliament, completed in 1994. A lot of Darwin was rebuilt after cyclone Tracy struck on Christmas Eve in 1974, and twenty years later this building was built on the old post office site. Such destructive force of cyclones for me is unimaginable, although it seems they are growing in frequency and force around our planet.

Shifting the perspectives for me gives the almost 'dinosaur' watchfulness of the bird to the fore. It brings an almost sinister air to the piece. Nature is often seen as beautiful, but of course it can also contain surprising destructive forces. During times where the natural world seems gentle, our influence could potentially unleash such huge and lethal forces, and the questions within this building would be most apt...what are we doing to our world?

Spending time on this continent brings the opportunity to increase my knowledge of the animal (including human) and plant kingdoms firsthand. The life and history here were separate for so long, that many things are very different, and I have only touched the surface. Only comparitively recently would it have been possible for someone like me to even be aware that this continent existed.

Watching the local wildlife is an activity that brings some challenges in identification. As a trained applied biologist, my strengths were more in the areas of the how, why and when of the biological world, rather than the what, and taxonomy has always been a little challenging for me, even in the UK.

Dave's local and national knowledge however, becomes invaluable, though there would be times when we were both utterly stumped.

Immediate answers are something that we have become more expectant of, demanding of even, as our electronic world has propelled us into an era of instantly accessible information.

Now I am not always content with the digital world...actually, at times I wonder if we have lost too much by adopting it - time, patience, perspective to name but three. Living in the world of online resources is somewhat an illusion that we can always access the right information, and act immediately, and my frustration levels are often a symptom of this phenomenon.

Artists and taxonomists in the past however, would have had a different approach to illustrating and identifying their prey...with results somewhat slower, and permanent, hunting either with a gun, or a net, with the prey ultimately stuffed or spiked on the end of a needle!

Thankfully, these days the technology we have to hand enables us to capture an organism, whilst allowing it to continue its life relatively unaffected.

Accepting the pros however, also means we have to accept the cons. And the virtual world is an ever-moving world of facts and figures. Caution speaks out that I would have need of an expert.

Taking pictures of the animal life here may result in images that can be used for art reference, but what do you do when you have no idea what it is?

The books needed are sometimes many, and not always to hand.

Interest had begun to turn towards the smaller, and at the same time vaster diversity, of the insect world.

A pair of rather intimately-locked butterflies had stumped us. They appeared to not at all be concerned by the photographic capturing of what should, I suppose, be a private matter (although they'd decided to throw propriety aside by using the balcony).

Graphium eurypylus nyctimus, Great Jay Butterflies, Butterfly, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Norton
Graphium eurypylus nyctimus (Waterhouse & Lyell, 1914). © David Norton

With the butterflies digitally caught and showing no signs of stopping, to save blushes, our attention turned quickly to identification!

Where would we find an expert. Enter the virtual world of forums, stage left! And the joy when technology enables us to quickly connect up.

In just a few minutes I'd managed to find, join and introduce myself to the Insect Collectors Forum. This is a resource for insect collectors, enthusiasts and those with a virtually inexhaustible insectivorous appetite.

Within a few hours, I'd received an answer. Thank you Paul K from Canada! It was a sub-species of the Great Jay butterfly - Graphium eurypylus nyctimus (Waterhouse & Lyell, 1914).

And logging onto the Atlas of Living Australia, the image of these butterflies was loaded up, and the sighting recorded.

We just have to wait 1-2 weeks for it to appear on the site. Ah well. There's that reminder that not everything can be instant. We'd have to wait for confirmation that these butterflies were indeed what we thought they were.

For now, job done! Now I've only to create the artwork...

The Great Jay, Butterfly, Darwin, Northern Territory, NT, Australia, David Dalzell, The Wandering Artist
The Great Jay - Darwin - NT

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