Ode to Laratinga

Pink-eared Duck leaping


I have fallen in love with Laratinga Wetlands. 


Well, apart from having a multitude of bird species that are easy to photograph, incredible mist and light (on a clear, cool morning) and being less than a 30 minute drive from central Adelaide, they are also completely, 100% MAN MADE!  That's right! 

I am not surprised it is described by the Mount Barker District as its environmental 'jewel in the crown' because to take a paddock and turn it into this wetland wonderland, is a stroke of genius and incredibly inspiring. If only other councils were as enlightened. Click here to read more and see the before and after photos.

The Location: Laratinga Wetlands, South Australia


Un-wadeable: Its a wetland reserve so definitely not allowed to get in the water.

Water a bit Messy: Due to the number of birds in defined area, there is a fair bit of fluff-n-stuff on the water's surface that can look a bit messy.  

Lots of Human activity nearby: Lots of people are around but this can also be an advantage (see below)- except, of course, when they come over at the critical bird-doing-amazing-thing moment and say, 'Are you ok?'  or 'Is she dead?...'


Close to Adelaide: For a bird photographer based in Adelaide, these wetlands are the perfect place to hone your photographic skills. 

Lots of Birds: Lots and lots of birds. Most of them are common birds, but even these birds are beautiful too! I really wanted to photograph Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceusand there were several regulars here, as well as my other favourite waterfowl, the Australasian Shoveler (Anas rhynchotis). I think it must have something to do with their bills - so amazing! 

Access to Waters edge: There are several access points to the waters edge for those killer water level photos.

Lots of Human activity: I have said it before but lots of people is an advantage!  Why? Because the birds are habituated to human presence.  Actually, I loved seeing all the locals running or walking dogs etc as it was a perfect example of nature and humans co-existing in a positive way.

Equipment Used 

  • Canon 1Dx Mark II
  • Canon F4 600mm lens
  • 64GB CF Card + another
  • jeans, shoes, jumper
  • no dog (she was stuck at home in Toodyay)
  • $5 yoga mat from K-Mart. YOGA MAT? Yep. Unless you want to end up with duck poo all over yourself (and car), its a good idea to take a yoga mat. 


Approximately six hours over three mornings. Arriving at sunrise and sitting mostly facing into the sun.

Camera Settings 

The specific aperture, shutter speed and ISO are set out for each photo. Other things you might be interested in are as follows:

  • for most images, I rested the lens on the ground as I lay at waters edge.
  • I used Manual mode, changing the settings as required. Sometimes I shot directly into the direction of the rising sun, whilst at other times, if the action moved, I would shoot directly away from the rising sun. The settings required changing, as you can imagine, quite dramatically. This is why having a good understanding of your camera, and knowing what to change and how, is essential (See my article: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual?). 
  • I always shoot RAW and in High Speed Continuous Mode. This means that I take a LOT of photos and need a fast and large capacity (64GB) camera card. I recommend getting the best you can afford. Camera card speed can affect the amount of photos you can take per second, regardless of what camera you are using. 

My Best Shots

Below are the photos I liked best. None of these images was pre-planned before that morning. Rather I took the time to watch and tried to take advantage of the scene before me in the best way possible. Also, I stopped photographing as soon as the light became too harsh. In Australia, this tends to happen within about two hours after sunrise.

On most of the images, I spent a maximum of two minutes post-processing.  On some images, I did clone out distracting elements. Where I have done this I say so below.   

Backlit Welcome Swallow catching bug


Welcome Swallow

F5.6, 1/5000, ISO 160: Shortly after the sun came up the swallows started going crazy chasing insects across the water. If you want to know the meaning of frustration, its trying to get a swallow as it flies past.  I cursed a lot, but in the end it was worth it to get just one shot like this. 



Two Pink-eared Ducks looking rather shy

Pink-eared Duck 

F4, 1/1000, ISO 800:  Yay! I was so delighted to get these pink-eared ducks, from water level. I did clone out some of the fluff-and-stuff floating on the water. 


Two Grey Teals in flight against striking mist

Grey Teal

F4, 1/1000, ISO 400.  The early morning light coming through the mist and tall eucalyptus trees was incredible and I was praying for a bird, any bird to go into the light when these two ducks flew past. 



Three Pink-eared Ducks in mist


Pink-eared Ducks: F4, 1/1600, ISO 250.  I love this image. What I didn't love, however, was the fourth duck next to these three (not a pink-eared) so I am sorry to say he got zapped in photoshop.


Australasian grebe portrait


Australasian Grebe: F4, 1/800, ISO 800. Don't mess with a grebe...


Australasian Shoveler


Australasian Shoveler: F4, 1/1250, ISO 800. 


Red-kneed Dotterel


Red-kneed Dotterel: F4, 1/1000, ISO 2500. I stayed in this one location for the Red-kneed Dotterel despite a lot of fluff-n-stuff in the water which made many of the photos very messy looking. Whilst lying there (for an hour or so), I also saw a Little Grassbird, Superb Fairy-wren, Spotless Crake (below) and... wait for it.. a RAT!  It was fabulous.

  White-plumed Honeyeater


White-plumed Honeyeater: F5.6, 1/320, ISO 1000.  


Welcome Swallow in flight


Welcome Swallows: F4, 1/8000, ISO 160. 


Crimson (Adelaide) Rosella  

Adelaide (Crimson) Rosella: F5.6, 1/640, ISO 1000. Getting down low (yes, lying on the ground) means you can blur out a lot of distracting detail (in front and behind the bird).


Welcome Swallow in flight


Welcome Swallows: F5.6, 1/5000, ISO 160. This was what all those Welcome Swallow shots was about - trying to capture the moment they touch the water (preferably with a backlit splash).  If I could get one closer, sharp and heading towards me it would undoubtedly have been my shot of the year, but alas, this is the closest to the dream image I could get. Nice but no cigars.


Red-kneed Dotterel


Red-kneed Dotterel: F4, 1/500, ISO 800. 




Pacific Black Duck : F4, 1/3200, ISO 640. Those shapes on the water in front are light reflections. The light and mist on this morning was incredible! 


Grey Teal having a bath


Grey Teal: F4, 1/6400, ISO 250. 


Superb Fairy-wren


Superb Fairy-wren: F4, 1/1600, ISO 640. Getting down low (yes, lying on the ground) means you can blur out a lot of distracting detail (in front and behind the bird) turning an otherwise average looking patch of weedy grass into a mural of muted tones that makes a great setting for a 'superb' bird like this one.  Its not amazing, but it is nice and shows the potential.


Pacific Black Duck preening


Pacific Black Duck: F4, 1/1250, ISO 800. I can't resist a preening Pacific Black Duck and those speculum feathers, sometimes green, sometimes purple. In fact, its a teeny weeny bit soft (but don't tell anyone!).


Australasian Shoveler in the rain


Australasian Shoveler: F5.6, 1/400, ISO 1000. I love a rain shot. Not the most spectacular image but at least it has atmosphere!


Red-kneed Dotterel


Red-kneed Dotterel: F4, 1/1000, ISO 2500. 

Backlit/silhouetted Welcome Swallow

Welcome Swallows: F5, 1/8000, ISO 320. 


Superb Fairy-wren


Superb Fairy-wren: F4, 1/800, ISO 640. 


Spotless Crake

Spotless Crake: F4, 1/250, ISO 3200.  This was taken in very dark conditions so it has a fair bit of digital noise. If I had more time, I would return to the same area and try to get a better shot in brighter light. 


 The Rat!


Did you find this article helpful? Is there anything else you'd like to know about bird photography? If so, please be sure to leave a comment below.
 I would really love to hear from you!

1 comment

  • I live one kilometre from Laratinga and love the light at this venue, both early mornings and my personal favourite, late afternoons.

    Gerhard Weldhagen

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published