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Swamp Rat – a lesson in carpark wildlife photography

Part 2 in the stories behind some of my favourite images

This was one of my favourite images from the last year, one of the reasons was because I had never seen one of these before. It was also a great lesson in unexpected discoveries and being adaptable.

A very cute native rodent – Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus) . Seen in the rainforest fringe at Cunninghams Gap.

It took this photo on a recce for an upcoming Scenic Rim Photo Walk near Cunningham’s Gap. Arriving in the carpark not long after sunrise I got my gear organised, putting a wide angle lens on, intending to get some photos of the creek which forms the start of the walking track and then to head up into the rainforest.   I hadn’t gone 5 steps away from my car when I noticed these small animals on the grassy picnic area. It seemed that they hadn’t noticed me either. In my experience small animals can be just as frightened off when you retreat as when you moved forward, so slowly and quietly I crouched down till I was out of their view behind a big stumps and rearranged my camera setup to suit.

The light was still a little dim so I had to push the exposure a little – this was shot at 1/100sec @ f5.6 ISO 1600 on a 7DmkII with a 70-200 2.8 and 2x Converter. I don’t have any stabilisation on this lens so I put the camera on a monopod to get it steady enough. Once I was ready I slowly moved forward until I could get the composition I wanted. A couple of times I moved a little too quickly and they disappeared into the long grass skirting the picnic area. As I looked closer I could see that there were clear paths and tunnels they had made into the grass. So now I thought I knew where they would come out, except there are more entrances than animals. So I waited…

Not the sharpest picture but shows the paths and burrows they would disappear into

I was there for over an hour, enjoying watching 3 of these native rats exploring and eating before getting a few photos of the Bell Miners and Red Browed Finches in the area and then had to head home.

I was also fortunate to briefly see a Turquoise parrot which landed in a nearby bush then promptly took off. A rather rare sighting in theses parts and I was pleased to get 2 frames of it.

A female Turquoise Parrot – seen at Cunninghams Gap. Once thought to be extinct but have made a great recovery.

I never did get down to the creek or the rainforest as it turns out – I spent the whole time within 20 meters of my car in a frequently used picnic area. It just goes to show what is there when we are patient enough to wait and open enough to see. You don’t have to head off into the wild, just your backyard is a good place to start.

The Queensland Museum were as usual so helpful in making an identification because I could figure out which of the native rodents this one was.


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