Between the weather and some other family activities, we’ve not been out near Woodlands in about two weeks.
The afternoon looked moderately clear, and after a really long decision process over ‘mow the lawn’ or go look at the birds, we were in the car and heading out.
Just about everybody has been saying that the bird activity has quietened down out there, and a couple of reports show next to no activity from the Flame Robins at all.
A quick look around the dam area revealed that the reports were indeed correct. Not even a sight of the birds we’ve come to expect as locals. Even the Little Pied Cormorant and the Australasia Grebe had moved else where.
Bumped into Neil A, as we went back up the paddock and he’d found a single female Redcap. At first I thought it might be Primrose, but no such luck, perhaps one of her daughters as I’d seen them together a bit some weeks back. Then after about 10 minutes Primrose did turn up. She has a somewhat dilapidated coat, as she won’t moult completely for about a month or more just before the season starts. No sign of Lockie, and I think the brave little dude must have become Goshawk snack time.
No other Redcap males in the area, and Neil reported seeing only one in the area inside the backpaddoock. I think they’ve moved further down the range, but don’t have time to get out and do a good scout about.
While we were talking a Grey Shrike-thrush moved on to a tree nearby and taking a small stick began to poke it among the bark on the tree. Very quickly it came out with some goodie attached, and the bird calmly jammed one end of the stick into the bark for leverage and then like a kebab ate the goodie off the stick. I’ve always admired the GST for its lovely melodic sound, but now I’m even more impressed at is ability to use tools.
Into the back paddock, and the reports were indeed correct. Not even a wing flap, no tree creeper, nor sitellas. Not even the rush of Thornbills. After a bit of a scout round, we took to going up hill into the open scrub area just before the first hill. And here we found a small hunting party of Flame Robins. Perhaps 3 males, and 2 female/juveniles. But they were quickly gone.
What seems most strange is that a fortnight back, there were close to 30-40 birds working over the area, now just a handful. Perhaps they’ve all gone to Torquay.
Much to do, but not too many great images this winter.
Given the near week of rain we’d had and our inability to get out to the bush, we were watching the weather details on the tv with a touch more than avid interest.
In the end, Thursday looked like the go. Frost on the ground, little fog in the morning and sunny day. Sounds just about right.
Plug into the universe that Mr An Onymous lives in, and we are right to go.
As we drove down the Geelong Freeway toward the Point Wilson Road turnoff, it did look a bit nigglingly worrying that we could hardly see the car in front, and the verges of the road occasionally seemed to disappear completely in the fog. Oh yeah, fog. Not your “Oh, it’ll burn off after breakfast, fog.” Nor your “It’ll be gone by morning tea fog”, but your, this is pea soup, English fog, and you can expect to drive over London Bridge at any moment fog. Exposure times were looking like f/4 at a fortnight.
And of course once we got into the WTP, (they’ve put up a new gate and entry on Paradise Road. Very nice. Your water rates at work.), it became obvious that right after heavy rain in strong wind, fog will just about wipe out all hope of seeing birds. After all, if you’re just barely able to see the road to keep the car on it, oh, whats that- a GATE, stop car quickly- then its going to be harder to see a Whistling Kite slipping across a paddock. Speaking of paddocks, where were they?
Then we found a Nankeen Kestrel, sitting on a post on the side of the road. I think we snuck up on it as it couldn’t see the grey car in the grey fog. But then suitably surprised, it thew and promptly disappeared in the fog. Hmmmm.
Let’s go and photograph some trees in the mist. That seems like a good idea, there are some nice looking old skeletons up near The Borrow Pit, and let’s face it, any respectable Orange-bellied Parrot is not going to be out and about today, so we went.
And. As we got further into the plant, with more paddocks, and more water in the ponds, of course, the fog got, well, thicker. How could you tell?
So breakfast fog came and went, so did morning tea fog, and lunchtime fog was giving us a good run for our money, and then the first hint of a bit of blue sky and things became a little ‘clearer’.
By the time we were ready to go, and certainly by the time we’d hit the Highway Lounge in Werribee for a cup of coffee on the way home, it was. Clear. Oh well, perhaps that is why we enjoy going, there is always next time to dream about
Monday of the Queens Birthday Holiday weekend dawned with a splash of glorious sunlight coming in through the windows.
“Lets, go visit someone “, she said. Good idea but who? And we came to a reasoned conclusion that we hadn’t seen Rosie for a couple of weeks and that settled it.
Besides it was a holiday and the Woodlands park would be filled with every man and (his/her) (several), four-legged bird scarers. And I’ve grown tired of answering the ‘what are you doing with all that photo equipment”, question And the inevitable discussion on the rights or wrongs of Australia not having a Bill of Rights. So bypassing Woodlands and the bird scarers we travelled on westward.
So Rosie, here we come. Nice quiet area, just far enough of the track to not have to listen to endless cars passing. And the pleasure of Rosie, if she was taking visitors.
We arrived at her little area of the bush, the past weeks rain had given it a little extra lift, and a good stand of grass is starting to show in the open areas. But. No Rosie. She is a female Rose Robin, that somehow is out in the open basalt plains rather than in her normal wet hillside environment. Not that we’re complaining. It might just be she is a nomad in winter like the Flame Robins. Time will tell.
While we were scouting around, a small family of Flame Robins came through. One a particularly thin and tall bird with a quite dramatic yellow plume on his chest. Things were getting interesting.
When out of the trees and on to the ground flew a familiar little brown bundle, with appropriate wing fanning and tail twitching. Rosie was taking visitors.
Working with her on a good day is a real delight. She moves fast, but does a circuit of the small wooded area, so its possible to see her come by every 10-15 minutes sometimes. I settled on to a log and waited and sure enough she flitted in. She also seemed somewhat agitated by the Flame intruders and spent a bit of time chasing them out of the area. The Flames not being territorial at the moment simply moved up the paddock a bit.
Then back she’d come and on a number of occasions landed on the branches near me, and then above me and alongside me at distances the lens wouldn’t focus down too. It pretty amazing to have a little tiny bundle of feathers in arms reach sitting on the side of the tree with the feathers going in and out as she breathes. Most times I stop breathing for fear of frightening her off.
So we photographed, she hunted, then rested then came back again. We had hoped that there was a male to accompany her, but after several hours its pretty much a conclusion she is on her own.
Then to make a good day a great day, a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins also moved through and some Yellow-faced Honeyeaters to finally fill out a good day visiting friends.
Ever wondered what Birdos and Train Spotters have in common. Seems they both fall under the same collective noun “Spotters”
Mr An Onymous found a reference to birding down at the Western Treatment Plant and an interview with well known Birdo David Torr. He is member of Werribee Wagtails among other things an a driving force on the BirdLife Australia Photo database. And you’ll often find on the Birdline site reports of his findings out in the field.
Anyway if you’ve never wondered, like I’ve never wondered if there is a even somewhat tenuous connection, then have a look here.
If you just want to see what David and the group are doing for the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot, then look as well.
I’ve had some interesting comments over on Flickr,and also by email on the incident last Thursday involving the Swamp Harrier and the Falcon. As there are a lot of images from the few minutes, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a few more here and outline what transpired.
The light was fading badly by early afternoon, and a rain band was enveloping the You Yangs (a range of high hills near the treatment plant), and so it seemed worthwhile heading for home.
We were coming up the road alongside the Little River and just as we neared the crossing over the river, EE spotted a Brown Falcon on top of a post. It was close enough to warrant a look. And we stopped. As we did, and got the cameras ready to get a shot of the Falcon, a Swamp Harrier swung in and landed about 10 metres on the other side of the road from the Brown Falcon. And still we didn’t think anymore of it. Not wanting either bird to throw into the air, we pondered our next move. Had we moved away from the car, either, or both would have certainly taken to wing.
Seeing that I don’t have many – write that has hardly any- really useful pics of a Swamp Harrier, I decided to point the lens at it. And as I pulled the camera round, it threw and was airborne straight up. It then swung round on a very tight circle, and by then the Autofocus on the camera had well and truly grasped it, and I began to get some sharp shots, and a sharp view. Even then I thought it would gain height and be on its way. But. It swung the legs round like a pendulum and covered the 15 or so metres to the falcon faster than I could really work out what was occurring.
It wasn’t until I saw feathers fly from the falcon that I was really up to speed on the unfolding drama.
The falcon was taken completely by surprise and could only raise to defend itself. Pretty hopeless really. The long leg swung out and grained a good clawful of feathers on the lefthand wing. The flacon dropped immediately to ground, and the harrier had already steadied itself in flight and made another grasp but missed.
With the falcon in the grasses, the Harrier did what they do best. Hovered over the area. Eventually realising it wan’t going to get any further it pulled back and landed at the base of the falcon’s post. And sat glaring into the grasses. After a few more minutes it had obviously recovered its breath and took off to see other things. After a long time, perhaps five minutes or more the falcon emerged and flew away. It was gone by the time I’d swung the camera round.
Spent most of the yesterday morning pouring over the books, HANZAB, Debus, Hollands trying to work out what might have gone on.
Several things I found out. The Swamp Harrier is nearly twice as heavy as the Falcon. Females are around 900 gram. Falcons are 450(M) to 600 (F) gram.
Swamp Harriers can carry off an ordinary farmyard chook. They have, and we’ve seen them surgically pluck a coot out of the water with the greatest of ease, not even altering flight to do it. Ducks and rabbits are apparently also with in their range.
I have no doubt that had it managed to get a grasp on a wing, and do some damage to the flight muscles and or wing bones, then it would have easily despatched the Falcon.
Its sheer cunning and boldness in the entire adventure was very calculated and well executed.
I have a new admiration and respect for the Harrier, and just a hint of compassion for the Falcon.
No doubt these battles go on all the time, and given the sheer number of raptors that frequent the Western Treatment Plant, the small area must make it even more likely to happen.
On Friday, we looked out the window early in the morning to a clear sky and by breakfast a lovely sunny day. Not to be wasted we packed to go out for a morning’s sit in the park. But. By the time we’d got the car loaded, it was a bit, well, you know, overcast. So I went in to get the Drizabone and just as I came out to the car, it began to rain.
But by lunch time the rain had receded. Think that is the technical term.
We headed down the old hospital dam area and were hard pressed to find a bird. Any bird. After a lot of scouting about, we did locate a small hunting party of Flame Robins. So it was beginning to look better. The scrub near the dam is mostly Blackwood Wattle, and I was lining up on one bird when I heard a loud “TICH TICH” in the greenery right next to me. Peering into the undergrowth I could see some movement, and the TICH TICH repeated. But it didn’t match any calls I was aware of too loud for a Red-cap, and too sharp for a Scarlet, and the Flames have a much more sedate contact call, more of a trill.
Then as calm as you like, it hopped out of the greenery, and on to a stick. And I managed one shot, before it danced about on the ground and then moved to another tree. Fascinated, I followed. EE was on to it by this time as well, so we were going to get a good id.
At first I thought it might be a darkly coloured female Flame. But its attitude and stance was far from Flame-like. It also carried on its wings some distinctive rich Tan ‘broken arrow’ feathers. Most of the robins I know are white, or buff in that department.
More mystery. Once home, the id books weren’t much help, the best being a drawing by Nic Day of a Pink Robin. So off to Flickr. And mostly the response was Pink Robin.
Spent this morning pouring over HANZAB and Bowles “Flycatchers and Robins of Australia”, now the book is pretty much outdated, and if you don’t mind, we don’t, because of our very strict policy of “Rules for Ethical Bird Photography”, take pictures of birds on nest like that anymore. After all cutting down branches from nesting sites, (and allowing the hatchet marks to be seen in the photo), is as Paris Hilton is want to say, “Well, so yesterday”.
But among the pics of the Pink Robin was one showing the tan wing bars.
Excited I attempted to borrow EE’s field guide. She uses “Slaters, Field guide to Australian Birds’. Never try to borrow someone else’s field guide. Answering the ‘why? question is too hard.
Slater really nails the id with the Pink Robin as ‘not having any white tail edges, unlike most other robins.” Bingo.
My bird doesn’t have those white markings.
So here is a Pink Robin. First for me, anywhere let alone in Woodlands. Hope it might stay around a few days.
Edited update: Checked with my source of all things in lists at Woodlands and Richard says no records of them before.
lcriding suggested Ms Pink, so Ms Pink it is. Hope she approves.
We, Dorothy, I and Mr An Onymous, took a trip down to the WTP on Thursday. It was the only day in the week when the weather people could give a definitive, no rain. But some got a bit overenthusiastic with the little weather icons and put the Sunny Day one. Hmm, never believe an icon. We go there early morning, and already I was looking for the coffee shop. When the exposure is F/8 at a week, I begin to worry. Still we motored up to Ryan’s (former) swamp for a looksee and came acoss a lone Black Kite in a tree by the side of the road.
I whipped out the tripod with the new Wimberley Gimbal head and set it all up. The patient Kite sat through all that, and allowed me to take its pic. It was, rather unkindly, I thought, suggested that by the time I’d have it all setup, the bird would have died of old age. But. Not so.
The Wimberley head is such a piece of engineering. I’d like it even it it didn’t hold the camera. Which is does, and elegantly and securely. The main advantage is the weight of camera/lens is balanced, (like a see-saw) over the centre point of the lens/camera combo, and the centre weight of the lens. Dah dah the lens becomes for all intents and purposes “weightless”.And will move effortlessly and stay in position without tightening up anything. However, it does need to be setup, and that takes a couple of minutes. If we owned a Toorak Tractor then I’d leave it set up in the back and just open up the bombbay and outload the whole thing. But.
From there we travelled back to Paradise road, with the intention of finding the elusive Northern Shoveller. Truth is, its still elusive. Perhaps Illusive.
But we did find a pair of Nankeen Kestrels hunting just east of the pumphouse and they’ve been there a couple of weeks. So the hunting must be good.
On toward the East end of the plant, and we found the no go zone while the Orange Bellied Parrots are in session. Not wanting to be the ones that scared the last Orange Bellied Parrot to death, we turned toward 15E Outlet. Which is just as well, because by the time I’d got the Wimberley set up again, just about all the ducks, cormorants and small birds in the area, put to wing and were gone! Strange I thought. Not because of the remarkably attractive Wimberley I hope. And before you could say, “Was that a Whistling Kite call I heard?” The sky above us was filled with Black Kites. I counted 38 in the area I was looking at. EE numbered 30, and Mr O saw another 15 or more in the other direction. Had to be over 70 of these massive birds all in the same area, all circling with no real height gain, and all in easy photo reach. Now I know why they say such good things about the Wimberley. It works. Standing in one spot, following circling birds while holding a big 500mm lens is really hard on the arms. about a minute at a time I reckon. But with the big W. I stood photographing those in sight, looking to find the next one, easily swinging the lens about. 10 minutes passed and it seemed like 10 seconds. As they finally peeled away and move out along the shore line, 3 grown adults laughed, and yelled, exhausted by the intensity of the moment, and yet overwhelmed by the sheer size of the flock and their casual moments. More birds in 10 minutes than in days down there.
So it couldn’t get better. This is the place that John Barkla calls a “magic place’, and it had more to show yet.
We stopped to watch a Brown Falcon on a pole just on the Little River crossing. A Swamp Harrier swung in and landed about 10 metres from the Falcon. We were getting into position to photograph it, when it leapt into the air, circled to gain height and then thew itself at the completely surprised Brown Falcon. The Falcon rose up in defence, but it was pretty much a wasted effort. The long surgical legs swung in and it grabbed the falcon’s wing with feathers going everywhere. The falcon immediately dropped to the tall grass below with the Kite in hot pursuit. The Harrier then ‘harried’ over the area for about 2 minutes then landed back on the road and peered into the grass. After a few minutes of that it took off for other parts. The images on Flickr show the event and the said damage to the wing of the Falcon.
It emerged about 5 minutes later and flew off seemingly none the worse for wear, but a lot wiser in the way of Harriers.
Had the Harrier grasped some important bone on the wing, no doubt it would have crippled the falcon who would be no match for it in a straight fight. The Harrier being twice the falcon’s fighting weight.
We took a trip around Borrie, and there found two Sea-Eagles engaged in a battle. Locked together they cascaded out of the sky and into the water about 10 metres apart. Would have been great to get it all on file, but I managed only the evacuation from the water and the get-away. What surprised me was the speed and strength the birds came up out of the water, having been just about completely submerged.
And just to finish off a nice day, a Whistling Kite came out in the small break of sunshine and enjoyed the strong off shore wind.
Having filled one memory card for the day, I was pretty happy with the events, even if the icon got the weather wrong.
Took an early morning walk out to the old Cumberland Homestead site.
It overlooks Melbourne Airport and was recently part of a control burn that Parks Vic had carried out. What with the rain and all, the grass was beginning to recover nicely and only a few trees carried the scars of the fires, while a goodly number of new growth gum and wattle were charred remains.
Still its always a good walk as the grasslands are still pretty much open areas and suits the big birds hunting.
It wasn’t long before a pair of Whistling Kites put in an appearance and one posed with the airport control towers in the background. See it on Flickr. From my vantage point of a large log in the middle of the paddock the birds make frequent low passes across the paddock.
Till of course the local Brown Falcon showed up. Then it was a bit of a yelling match, and the big birds politely left the area. The Falcon was then harassed by a number of magpies and ravens, and eventually driven off by a Magpie Lark. Size is not a big deal in all this.
I walked back up toward a small ridge that runs down beside the Greenvale Creek. (normally dry, but today had a small flow of water from the rain. At the top of the ridge there are several open areas among the old Greybox forest and the Robins has traditionally hunted up there. Last year many of the females retired there for much of the winter.
And I wasn’t surprised to find a small hunting party going about its business.
Found a White-throated Treecreeper near the map shelter on the way out, and a number of Silvereye and a couple of Varied Sitellas doing their usual upside down thing on the bark of the big trees.