Photographing the Duck-Billed Platypus
One of the first thoughts to cross my mind when my wife and I decided to move to Tasmania, was that I would finally get to see and hopefully get the chance of photographing the duck-billed platypus….
The platypus is one of those iconic little animals that can only be described as a “lifer” to any nature and wildlife enthusiast. Tourists arrive in their thousands hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive aquatic egg-laying mammal that at first glance seems to be a cross between a duck and a beaver.
The species itself in Tasmania is common and relatively widespread inhabiting most rivers, streams, lakes, and dams. Finding it, however, may prove to be a little more difficult than expected.
Sure you can go to wildlife parks such as the “Platypus House” in Beauty Point north of Launceston where an up close and personal experience with a platypus is guaranteed, along with heaps of information on the little critters.
Seeing them in the natural habitat, however, is by far more rewarding.
So where to go…….
My first choice would be the Warrawee Reserve located on the Mersey river. On our first visit there we managed to see five different individuals (our first being within seconds of exiting the car).
How to get there: Latrobe is about 95km north of Launceston and roughly 15km south of Devonport. Once in Latrobe head down Hamilton road off Gilbert Str (main road through town).
Follow Hamilton Rd (becomes Shale rd) for 3.9km to reach Warrawee.
Another option would be Fernglade Reserve in Burnie. Once on the reserve follow the trail along the Emu river and you’re bound to see them.
How to get there: If you’re traveling on the Bass Highway through Burnie turn onto Massey-Greene Drive. After 300m turn onto Fern Glade Rd. Travel 1.3km to reach the reserve.
If You’re closer to Hobart, then Mount Field National Park would be your best option. The park is roughly 70km north-west of Hobart. A Walk along the Tyenna River will often yield results.
How to get there: From Hobart head north along the Brooker Highway towards Bridgewater. At the roundabout, instead of crossing the Derwent River, continue onto Lyell Highway/ A10. Continue on Lyell Highway for 33km then turn left onto B61 / Gordon River Rd then follow for 23km.
Preferred Gear and tips
Here are a few things to consider when photographing the duck-billed platypus:
Platypus are most active during the early morning or late afternoon.
Platypus are relatively small, and it is unlikely, although not impossible, that they will swim close to you. Ideally, a 70-300mm or 100-400mm lens with a 1.4 or 2 x converter would provide the best opportunities. However, depending on circumstances, you could get by with a 24-105mm lens and a little post-processing magic.
Platypus are more active during the early hours and late afternoon, so chances are the light might not always be that great. You need to consider that they are deceptively quick, a faster ISO is required to get a faster shutter speed.
I also suggest using a polariser to reduce the risk of glare on the water surface. This can be an issue with the position of the sun during the times when platypus is most active.
I also suggest a low aperture. Firstly depth of field shouldn’t be an issue when photographing platypus, so a wide aperture of around f4-5.6 should be plenty. This will also allow for a faster shutter speed.
Set focusing to Ai Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon). This will allow you to track the platypus while still maintaining focus. By observing the animal’s behaviour, you can focus lock on a spot where you are anticipating the platypus to surface.
Set the cameras drive mode to continuous so you can fire off multiple exposures at a time.
And don’t forget…..
Warm clothes! It gets kinda nippy close to the water’s edge, and if you’re like me where anything below 20 degrees Celsius is excruciating, then layer up!
Patience…..loads, and loads of patience.
Photographing the duck-billed platypus will remain high on my list of priorities. I just can’t get enough of the little tackers.
Don’t expect to get it right the first time…..that’s the beauty of photography…..