The Collared Sparrowhawk

Delicate yet lethal.

A frantic exodus of birds can only mean one thing, a predator, a feared Collared Sparrowhawk.

Looking out from my kitchen window, I witness and hear a chaotic scramble of birds taking flight away from the serenity of my backyard. These feathered friends, which include Sparrows, Spotted Doves, Crested pigeons and Miners, startle easily, but on this occasion, my sense was they feared for their life.

As stepped outside, it confirmed my feeling as sitting quietly, almost nonchalantly on a branch of my apple tree was a Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey.

Sparrows and various other small birds that frequent my and my neighbours’ backyards in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia have particularly attracted predators that are skilled in hunting small birds.

Confident and relaxed, this modern feathered dinosaur (a Velociraptor to be exact) was not all unsettled by my schoolboy type enthusiasm to set up my camera to capture images. Occasionally, it gave me the death stare with those wide, piercing yellow eyes, perhaps warning me to keep my distance.

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird? – Sir David Attenborough

A Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey.

Collared Sparrowhawk. Melbourne. Australia.
View of a Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus), a striking deadly raptor and bird of prey. I took the image in my backyard. Melbourne. Australia.

Found in woodlands and forests across Australia, Collared Sparrowhawks are handsomely marked, with slate-grey wings and head, chestnut rear neck collar and reddish-brown and cream banded chest and front.

Living an average of only 4 years, males and female Collared Sparrowhawks are similar in appearance; However, females are larger than males.

Birds of Prey or raptors females are between 20-100 percent larger than the males. This is the opposite of most other birds, where males are larger than females.

A distinguishing feature of the Collared Sparrowhawk is that it has long thin wiry yellow legs and a long middle toe, which it uses to clutch its unfortunate victim. This is one feature that differs from the Brown Goshawk, for which it is mistaken for.

My charismatic visitor eventually tired of my antics and flew off, perhaps to enchant another mere mortal or more likely, to find a meal.

Click to view the complete Collard Sparrowhawk image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, Victoria. Australia.

Nestled near the mountain village of Olinda, one hour’s drive from central Melbourne, is the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, a showcase of stunning exotic and native flora. 

A dazzling exhibit of the wonderments of nature, the garden is one of the key allures of the Dandenong Ranges, which is set in the low mountain ranges roughly 600 metres above sea level. 

Formerly recognised as the National Rhododendron Garden, the vast 40-hectare Garden (100 acres) includes an extensive range of cool-climate plants along with 30,000 Rhododendron and Azalea species and hybrids. 

Entry is free, and I spent a relaxed two hours meandering the 5 km of paved walkways during a recent summer visit and was delighted with the diversity of plant life and arrangement of the garden. 

“The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is Victoria’s premier cool-climate garden. With breathtaking views over the Yarra Valley, the garden features important collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and more, in a setting of native and exotic trees. Seasonal changes ensure the garden is a year-round delight,” Quote from the Parks Victoria website.

Click to view the complete Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia.
Dazzling pincushion flowers of the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ plant, a member of the Proteaceae family. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. Victoria. Australia. Native to Southern Africa, the genus Protea was named in 1735 after the Greek Sea God Proteus, who could change his form at will.

Monet and I, inspired by the masterpiece of nature.

What does an obscure photographer stuck in the concrete landscape of an Australian suburb and Claude Monet, a French impressionist master, have in common?… the love for nature, gardening, flowers and the symphonies of colours.

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.’ – Claude Monet

Born on 14 November 1840, Claude Monet is one of the most significant, influential and universally celebrated figures in the history of Art. Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting (late 1800s) which focused on emotions, form and changing light and movement rather than realism. 

Impression, Sunrise, a most splendid painting by Monet, is credited to inspiring the name of the impressionist movement.

Monet is perhaps most famous for his monumental series of oil paintings depicting water lilies, serene gardens, and Japanese footbridges. Monet’s water lily series was painted on his property in the village of Giverny, in northern France, where he lived his final 43 years from 1883 to his death on 5 December 1926. 

Throughout his life, Monet grew flowers and cherished gardening and being outdoors, at one with nature. In his later years, specifically during his life at Giverny, he became a zealous student of botany.

Monet was the architect and visionary of the extensive and splendid landscaped gardens (five acres of flowerbeds and water-lily ponds) which became the subjects of some of his famous masterpieces. 

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’ – Claude Monet

To achieve his grand vision, he devoted himself to flower gardening and employed several gardeners for additional support. He sourced and imported plants, some rare, from around the world including irises, daises, nasturtiums peonies, delphiniums, rhododendrons, Oriental poppies, asters and many species of sunflowers and the water lilies for his famous lily pond. 

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

Monet didn’t let finances impede attaining his dream, and he said, “All my money goes into my garden,” but also: “I am in raptures.” 

Today Monet’s house and gardens attract over half a million visitors each year, testament to his visionary brilliance. It was Monet’s love of plants and flowers and not painting that inspired him to transform his property into an oasis. 

And as Monet, I created my garden beds purely for the pure joy, inspiration, and companionship that plants and flowers provide. Graceful, enchanting and full of zest, flowers with all their eccentricities and richness of colours never cannot captivate the senses. As with Monet, I can’t imagine life without being surrounded by nature. 

‘I must have flowers, always, and always.’ – Claude Monet.

Images included in this post (and found in my image gallery) were captured in my garden. I concentrated on my collection of showy merry African daisies (Osteospermum) of which I clearly adore. The scientific name is developed from the Greek osteon (bone) and Latin spermum (seed). 

As homage to Monet, several of the photographs are impressionistic in style, with a dreamy soft, almost defocused effect, gushing with vibrant colours.

I used the multiple exposure photographic technique, also known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). I superimposed nine exposures to create a single image in camera. I then converted raw files into jpegs with very minor basic adjustments in Photoshop.

Official website of Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny.

Claude Monet Quotes

‘Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.’

‘My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature” “I am good at only two things, and those are gardening and painting.’

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.’

Click here to view the full African Daisy image gallery.

 All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Floral dreams
Multiple exposure of Osteospermums (African daisy) flowers in which I layered many exposures to create a single image in-camera.

California Redwoods, Giants from a Lost World – Warbuton Australia.

Facing California Redwoods is a surreal experience, one I was unprepared for when I entered nature’s majestic cathedral.

Researching the internet for day trips, I stumbled onto a website that had information about a forest of redwoods, near the township of Warburton, a pleasant 90 minutes’ drive from where I live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.

From a young age, I have had a fascination with redwoods, so to discover that I could actually see them without flying 12,000 kilometres to California was quite incredible. Excited, I went the very next day. 

The tallest trees on Earth

California Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), also known as Coastal Redwoods, are native to a narrow strip of the northern Californian coast. Thriving in the foggy cool moist environment found there, the Redwoods can soar to a height of 100 metres (330 feet) or more.

Discovered in 2006, the tallest tree on Earth is Hyperion, a California Redwood, reaching a height of 116 metres (380 feet). Hyperion in ancient Greek mythology was one of the twelve Titan progenies of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky).

Redwoods linage goes back 200 million years to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and are one of the oldest living organisms on Earth with the capacity to live well over 2000 years.

Why are they found so far from their native home?

In 1930, a governmental public utility body (Melbourne Board of Works) planted approximately 1500 redwoods and several other tree species (including Bishop Pine and Douglas Fir) as part of a revegetation program because of the clearing of native eucalypt trees. Additional plantings occurred in the early 1960s.

The encounter

I arrived mid-morning. Almost instantly, the brilliant rays of the sun pierced through the dull, overcast sky that shadowed me from home. Was it an omen, perhaps? I excitedly gathered my camera gear and casually walked from the vast empty car park to the forest entrance. I was not expecting for the ethereal encounter that was about to take place.

The Earth moved and swayed as I magically entered another realm, a hidden world of redwoods, immense in scale, breathless in splendour and unpretentious authority.

As I gradually stepped into the forest, the redwoods curtains were drawn. Illuminating beams of sunlight penetrated the canopy, revealing the forest in its true majesty.

The forest floor, carpeted with fallen leaf needles, crackled as I moved closer to inspect the trunk of one giant. The distinctive cinnamon-red bark, thick and grooved and fire-resistant, captivated me, as did delicately soft and leathery touch of the trunk.

I then extended my neck to its limits, looking up towards the sunlit canopy, and viewed the giant trees reaching for the sky. I was in breathless wonder.

Canopy of Californian Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) which form a forest outside the town of Warburton, Victoria, Australia.

Continuing to explore, whistling, at peace, hugging, embracing the redwoods, I then had this sensation that the trees were conscious of my veneration and bliss.

Was my enraptured emotional state leading to my imagination to go into overdrive?

No, recent research has confirmed what I have always believed: that trees are conscious of their surroundings. The wise ancient Redwoods were perhaps acknowledging and warming to my sense of wonder. 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by details, the ancient law of life.

– HERMANN HESSE, Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte

Standing in a forest of redwoods is a unique experience.

Californian Redwoods were once abundant, stretching for over 8 million hectares (2 million acres), in harmony with fellow earthlings, and a key member of the delicate and rich ecosystem.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848, and the Redwood’s fate appeared doomed. The Gold rush, with its mass migration and hysteria during the 1850s, had a devastating impact on the Californian environment, with the Redwoods almost being wiped out because of logging.

They barely survived, with only 5 percent of the original old growth forest remaining.

The redwoods being saved from extinction was an act affirming the relevance of humanity’s affinity with the natural world. The decision allowed studies to be conducted that established that redwoods forests can absorb more than twice the amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) than any other forests on earth.

The primary reasons are their tremendous height, longevity and resistance to rot once fallen, meaning they will continue to store atmospheric carbon for many centuries whilst laying on the forest floor. Another reason to respect and save redwoods.


Like a child at visiting Disneyland for the first time, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I didn’t want to leave, but longer shadows meant time had come.

The trip home was a blur as I reflected on the day, a day that was as extraordinary and humbling as I had ever experienced. A spiritual like awakening, an insight of sorts. I changed that day, and for that I will always be beholden to California Redwoods, one of mother nature’s special representatives.

Click to view the complete Warbuton Redwoods image gallery.

All Text, Images and Content are copyright Steven Sklifas

William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria Australia.

On the outskirts of Melbourne, the William Ricketts Sanctuary is a serene, mystical haven set in the verdant forest of the Dandenong Ranges. 

William Ricketts (1898–1993) was a potter, sculptor and Aboriginal and ecological spiritualist. Described by Ricketts as “The Forest of Love” the Sanctuary represents his profound kinship with Aboriginal Australians, his reverence of the natural environment and disgust of the destructive attitude of white colonists towards Australian flora and fauna. 

Life is Love. All you to all me, for being part of nature, we are all brothers to the birds and trees.

William Ricketts.

Meandering paths bordered by soaring Mountain Ash Trees and green ferny rainforest gently take visitors on a sacred, uplifting journey through an open-air gallery of roughly 100 sculptures of Australian Aboriginal people and wildlife lovingly crafted by Ricketts into the natural landscape. 

Aboriginal people represented in his sculptures are attributed to his experiences living in central Australia during the 1950s in which he spent time with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte nations.

 Opened in 1964, the sanctuary is free to enter and is one of the key attractions of the Dandenong Ranges, which a set of low mountain ranges roughly 600 metres above sea level. 

The complete William Ricketts Sanctuary image gallery.

Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria Australia.

Otherworldly and awe-inspiring, Wilsons Promontory National Park represents Mother Nature in all her splendour, a magnificent reminder of how fortunate we are to living on this absolutely unique Planet, Earth.

Wilsons Promontory is a peninsula that forms the southernmost part of the Australian mainland and is a long but scenic three hours’ drive east from Melbourne in the state of Victoria, Australia.

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

– Albert Einstein

Home to abundant native wildlife, the Park size stretches to over 50,000 hectares (125,000-acres) and has a maze of walkway and hiking trails that provide a magical journey through a pristine and rugged wilderness including white sandy beaches, secludes coves, dramatic rock formations and verdant native forests.

Sweeping views of Wilsons Promontory and its rugged coastline are offered via a 3.4km trek up to the granite rocky summit of Mount Oberon, which rises to an elevation of 558 metres. Further information about Wilsons Promontory–Parks Victoria Website.

The complete Wilsons Promontory image gallery.

All Text, Images and Content are copyright Steven Sklifas