Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Bellbird

with 27 comments

Bellbird 3973

Click for greater clarity.

At the Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary on February 8th I saw a bellbird, known natively as korimako and scientifically as Anthornis melanura. You can read more about the korimako in New Zealand Birds Online.

On the technical side I’ll add that there wasn’t a lot of light in the bush (forest, for most of the rest of us), so I raised my camera’s ISO to 4000 and lowered the shutter speed to 1/200, which even with image stabilization is slower than I’d normally go with a 280mm (equivalent, thanks to a 1.4x extender) focal length. Not all the pictures I took of the bellbird came out well, but this one isn’t bad (except maybe for the movement of the bird’s lower bill, but we’ll act like educational bureaucrats and claim that that gives the picture authenticity).


For two weeks you’ve been seeing some wonderful things from New Zealand. I’ve by no means run out of them, but for the next week and a half I’ll catch you up on the spring that was slow to arrive in central Texas this year because of cold temperatures but that is now in full force. After that I’ll go back to another round of photos from picturesque Aotearoa.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2015 at 5:24 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Lovely bird. Bring on the flowers and/or buds.

    Steve Gingold

    March 25, 2015 at 5:38 AM

    • I’ve got both planned, but noticeably more of the first, starting with two that will be making their debut here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 5:44 AM

  2. really nice, very sharp and even with the blur on the bill it still looks great. Lovely photo.

    Ben Rowe Aperturef64

    March 25, 2015 at 5:59 AM

  3. Lovely. Looks as though it was singing for you.


    March 25, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    • I don’t think it was singing, for me or anyone else, but I don’t remember. I do remember, thanks to your question about a bellbird singing, the bell tolling in John Donne’s famous passage:

      “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 7:04 AM

  4. I really like this photo, moving bill and all. In fact, that may be my favorite part of it.


    March 25, 2015 at 8:09 AM

  5. He’s a beauty!


    March 25, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    • I hadn’t paid attention, but the description in New Zealand Birds Online does make it seem as if this one is a he.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 9:31 AM

  6. It’s a wonderful portrait, especially considering the low light and your ISO pushed so high. I’m surprised there isn’t more noise–even if you can’t remember his singing. They do have a most unforgettable call.


    March 25, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    • Thanks. My Canon 5D Mark III handles noise pretty well at high ISOs, but of course the closer you look at the original the more noise you’ll see. I like your semantic switch with the word noise, from sensor artifacts to bird calls.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 12:31 PM

  7. Lovely shot. I have never been able to take photos of them. I hear them all the time but just can’t see them. I did mange to get some photos of the fantail just looking out my kitchen window. They live in the canopies of the the trees and thus the exposure is hard

    Raewyn's Photos

    March 25, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    • I was fortunate that this one landed not too far from where I was and stayed there long enough for me to take some photographs. In Christchurch a fantail was in the bush close to me but kept moving about, so I never did get a clear opening for a picture. Win some, lose some.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 3:39 PM

  8. This is one instance in which I’m happy to join the ranks of educational bureaucrats. Lovely bird, lovely photograph! I can almost hear it calling . . .

    Susan Scheid

    March 25, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    • Thanks, Susan, for your willingness to endure an educational bureaucracy, however briefly, for the sake of a lovely bird. (I was railing against “authentic assessment,” a not-so disguised method for lowering standards enough that the desired number of students can be given passing grades; note my use of the passive voice to accompany the unwarranted giving of “passing” grades. And if this sounds like I can pass for a cynic on education, I can. Much better to stick to nature photography.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2015 at 3:55 PM

  9. Such a pretty bird. It’s a nice touch that NZ Birds Online provides excellent samples of their songs and calls. There are some fine YouTube videos, too, including a few from Tiritiri Matangi.

    I laughed at you fussing about the movement in the bird’s bill. I only wish I could see it. “Clicking for greater clarity” would be wonderful about now. I’ve been introduced to a process called “stop wearing your contact lenses and go into glasses for the next six weeks, so your eyes can reshape themselves and your new implanted lenses will fit.”

    This is reasonable, of course, and I’m trying to be cheerful about it all. I can see just well enough to drive, just well enough to work, and just well enough to see the computer screen (if I squint), but not well enough to be able to distinguish an orange patch in the highway median as Indian paintbrush. The Experts tell me things may improve, and I certainly hope so.


    March 26, 2015 at 8:06 PM

    • Sorry about your temporary discomfiture, but it’s all for the sake of something better. After that something better has come to pass, you can return here and click to take a closer (and sharper) look at the movement in the bellbird’s lower bill.

      Paintbrushes have been coming up here too, and yesterday I saw my first pink evening primroses of the season; there were more of them today, and they should still be around (here and by the coast) in six weeks. Happy recuperation.

      As for New Zealand Birds Online, yes, it’s an excellent site, what with text, images, and sounds. It’s now even home to one of the photographs I took during my trip; another image of the same bird will appear here in a post once I switch back to New Zealand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 26, 2015 at 9:32 PM

  10. This is a beautiful shot. One of those birds that you hear everywhere in South-East Queensland, but I’ve never seen one. The subtle colours are beautiful and you’ve captured great detail in the feathers. I also don’t mind the movement in the bill. Adds a bit of a dynamic feel to the image.


    March 26, 2015 at 9:59 PM

    • I don’t think of myself as a bird photographer, so I feel fortunate to have gotten portraits of a few iconic birds—especially, based on your comment, when they’re elusive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 26, 2015 at 10:23 PM

    • By the way, I like your dynamic, which I can add to authentic to describe this picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2015 at 7:19 AM

  11. […] you’d like to see an adult bellbird, you can check out a picture of one I took on our previous trip to New […]

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