A cartoon Feathertail Glider sitting on a branch next to the words Feathertail Photography.
A cartoon Feathertail Glider sitting on a branch next to the words Feathertail Photography.

Nature at home

A large black weevil with bright blue markings all over clings to a leaf.
Botany Bay Weevil

There’s no denying that we’re living in ‘unprecedented times’. (Is anyone else sick of hearing that phrase?)

Many of us are now spending the majority of our time at home, and no matter what your level of pandemic lockdown is, it’s tough.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself stuck at home! Last time it happened, the natural wonders I found in my own small backyard helped me through.

Trapped by my own mind

In 2011, about a year after my husband Nathan and I moved to the Sunshine Coast from Sydney, I became extremely unwell with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I had unresolved trauma after spending five years as a NSW Police 000 operator in Sydney. I didn’t realise I was traumatised, though—I thought I was fine!

However, my new job on the Sunshine Coast was a perfect recipe for disaster. I was a receptionist in a mental health clinic dealing primarily with suicide intervention and drug and alcohol addiction, where I witnessed some pretty horrible things. I was also badly bullied by a colleague.

By the end of 2011 I was severely mentally ill, and I had to quit my job as I was no longer capable of doing it (which was, of course, actually a good thing, but I couldn’t see that at the time).

My PTSD symptoms became so intense that I struggled to leave the house. I had panic attacks, bouts of intense crying, severe depression, and anxiety. My self-esteem was in the toilet. I worried that I would never be able to work or even function in normal society again.

The road to recovery

I started seeing a wonderful psychologist, and my doctor prescribed medication to help with the anxiety. My former workplace re-employed me in a new role in a different business unit.

Overall though, I was still a mess. Every day was a struggle.

In early 2012, Nathan gave me a camera for my birthday, and I started photographing insects, birds, and flowers in our backyard and at our local beach.

I’d always loved nature, but I couldn’t believe how many creatures were out there once I started looking closely!

The following four pics were taken in March 2012, during what was probably the worst week of my life. I couldn’t leave the house, and was so sick I truly thought I might die. (Click on any image to learn more.)

A large red and orange Assassin Bug with a yellow bowl-shaped abdomen edged with black spots. The bug has long antennae, a narrow head and a long folded rostrum (beak-like mouthparts).
Common Assassin Bug
A close-up shot of a tiny jumping spider with big black eyes. The spider is shiny, black and hairy, with orange feet.
Round Ant Eater jumping spider
A group of tiny brown cup-shaped fungi in black dirt. Each cup contains several small round black things that look a bit like tiny bird's eggs.
Bird’s Nest Fungi
A brightly coloured rainbow lorikeet chews on a branch amongst the red flowers on an African Tulip tree. The rainbow lorikeet is a boisterous medium-sized parrot with green wings, red chest, beak and eyes, and blue head and belly.
Rainbow Lorikeet

Nature photography is one of the things that saved me. It took me right out of my mind, and gave me something to focus on beyond my own problems.

The healing power of nature

I started to realise there was a whole world out there that I hadn’t ever noticed—a real-life game of Pokemon. Gotta catch ’em all!

More than that, though, was the appreciation I found for something bigger (and many things smaller) than myself. The natural world didn’t care about my problems—every animal or plant I spotted had its own stuff to deal with.

No matter what was happening in my life, all this other life was continuing around me. It was reassuring, and very inspiring.

I started sharing my wildlife pictures on Facebook and a citizen science website called Project Noah (PN). The PN community members were incredibly supportive, and generous with their time and knowledge. They encouraged me to learn as much as I could about the creatures I was photographing.

Slowly, I healed. (It took a really long time.) But I never stopped looking for and photographing the marvels hidden in my backyard.

There’s always something new to see

Fast-forward to 2020, and once again I find myself stuck at home (for the most part). I’ve certainly experienced all the mental ups-and-downs that come along with that, but one thing I haven’t experienced is boredom.

I don’t think I’ll ever be bored, as long as I have access to a garden!

Here are some of the cool things I’ve photographed at home during March and April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bright yellow butterfly with small black spots on the wings feeds on a red bottlebrush flower.
Common Grass Yellow Butterfly
A tiny green and brown frog with a large golden eye sits on top of a spiky plant.
Baby frog
A silvery metallic chrysalis hanging from the underside of a large green leaf.
Common Crow chrysalis
Bright yellow fungi on a piece of wood with greenery in the background.
Yellow Fungi
A scruffy pheasant coucal stands on a gravel driveway with greenery in the background. The pheasant coucal is a large ground-dwelling cuckoo with short wings and a long tail. It has a black body, red eye, and mottled brown wings.
Pheasant Coucal
A large brown moth sitting on a window at night. The moth is various shades of brown, with yellow stripes on the shoulders with a grey stripe in between, and grey and brown stripes on the triangular wings. The abdomen has three white dashed longitudinal lines.
Vine Hawk-moth
A wedge-tailed eagle silhouetted against a cloudy sky.
Wedge-tailed Eagle
A metallic black and rainbow-coloured beetle chewing on the leaf of a Tuckeroo.
Metallic beetle

So, what’s in your yard?

Or your street, or your local park? Or even your balcony?

Go on, have a good close look at some plants—see what’s flowering, and look through the foliage for insects.

Listen for birds or frogs calling in your neighbourhood, and see if you can spot them. Got a spider or a moth in your house? Don’t freak out—take a good look instead!

There are plenty of online resources available to help you identify whatever you find.

You might even like to take photos and contribute them to a citizen science project such as iNaturalist, QuestaGame (great for kids), or Project Noah. Your pictures don’t have to be great quality—just good enough for someone to be able to identify whatever you’ve photographed.

If nothing else, just spending a bit of time with nature can help you forget about life’s daily stresses and improve your mental health—even if you can’t get outside at all.

If you need help, or if this story has raised any issues for you, please talk to someone!

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I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the country where I live and work, the Gubbi Gubbi people.

I pay respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.