Darters: You’ve gotta pity poor old Dad

We took a quick trip to see what was happening, and with the promise of a Routley’s Pie on the way home we didn’t mess around getting going.

The Traffic on the Bridge was about the same as last time. Think the same bus went by about 5 times.  Still, the birds are not in the least bothered, and apart from one “Oh, what are they?” question, the majority of the commuters simply commuted.

The two have grown to about full size now, and they are just as hyper-active as ever.  Dad had come in to relieve Mum who went off for preening and hunting.  By the time we got settled, he’d fed them and was all out of food.   Not that they believed that for a minute, and continued to pester him from one side of the nest to the other and back again.  Its pretty amazing to see how those big rubber flippers can hold on to the sides of the nest and move them the chicks about with relative ease, not graceful, one has to admit, but purposeful.

His tactic to avoid the snapping little beaks is to push his head under his wings and mantle.  Once they can no longer see his beak, they settle somewhat.   But, they know he’s there somewhere and with little else to occupy them, they soon begin to search him out.  All the tickling and poking under his feathers eventually wins out, and he has to endure another round of little snaky waving heads pushing him for a meal.   Then he’d tuck under once again.  It was really interesting to see that he put his head under his mantle, and then the two wings closed like automatic doors over his head and neck. No sign of him now, and not doubt they wouldn’t have been able to part his drawn in wings.

But little heads, and beaks can get under the outside feathers and after a little shaking and pushing,  “Oh, there he is!!!” and much more jostling and waving.  No doubt he was counting the seconds until Mum came back, and no doubt she was counting the seconds to see how long she could stay away.
We waited about an hour, but she didn’t make an appearance, so we travelled back up the highway to Routley’s Pie Shop on Melbourne Road, in North Geelong. What a great selection, so perhaps we’ll take a couple home as well.   Ohhh, Lamb Tandoori sounds nice, and I challenged myself with the Beef, Tomato and Chilli.  Yep, that’s got chilli in it.   Topped off with a fine Cappuccino, (it was, still, after all, morning) and we were ready for the trip home.

Wings spread out to confuse them, he tries to find a quite moment
Wings spread out to confuse them, he tries to find a quite moment
Settling in behind his chest, he hopes to get a few moments rest.
Settling in behind his chest, he hopes to get a few moments rest.
He's in there somewhere.
He’s in there somewhere.
Where'd he go?  Confused because they can't see him, they turn on one another.
Where’d he go?
Confused because they can’t see him, they turn on one another.
Persistence is their middle name, and little beaks can penetrate the feathers
Persistence is their middle name, and little beaks can penetrate the feathers
Peek-a-boo.  Found you.
Peek-a-boo. Found you.
"ENOUGH".  He looses his cool.
“ENOUGH”. He loses his cool.
The lady in the upstairs apartment looks on.
The lady in the upstairs apartment looks on.
Recently fledged young bird is waiting forlornly for its parents to come back with a feed.
Recently fledged young bird is waiting forlornly for its parents to come back with a feed.
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Checking up on the Darters

Been about a week since we’d seen the Darters on the Barwon River, and decided on an early morning run.

The Shannon Avenue bridge is busy at any time it seems, and again we met with much pedestrian and bike traffic and the usual, “Oh, I’ve passed here for years and never seen them before, did they just come in?”  and other questions.

The nest we’d been watching previously now had two quite large young in it. Well formed and with some pins of real feathers just starting to emerge.  The male was on the nest, and the young were relentless in their waving at him for food.  They continued full speed for over twenty minutes and he moved about the nest trying to avoid the tiny waving heads.   He seemed so patience at their insistence and finally tucked his head under his wing to avoid them.  Not being able to see his head stopped the begging, and in the end it was obvious he didn’t have any more food to give, and they settled down for a sleep.  He stood over them and tucked his head. one more time, and lifted out his wings to give them some protection.

The two other eggs that had been there the previous week were obviously infertile, and they had been removed from the nest.  Perhaps its too late in the season to try and feed four hungry mouths.

We waited an hour or so hoping that the female would return from her hunting expedition, but no such luck.  The female in the apartment above had settled down on her eggs and only an occasional head lift to check things out was her response.

We figured that our luck was out on the female returning so we did the right thing and headed off with ‘coffee’ as the next challenge.

Gimme gimme gimme Two little waving heads as they beg for food.
Gimme gimme gimme
Two little waving heads as they beg for food.
Gimme Gimme, they were so active and persistent
Gimme Gimme, they were so active and persistent
Hide as he might, they were quick to take up every opportunity.
Hide as he might, they were quick to take up every opportunity.
When he tucked his head away, they started on each other.
When he tucked his head away, they started on each other.
Gottem settled down at last
Gottem settled down at last
Even time for Dad to take a quick nap.
Even time for Dad to take a quick nap.
The wonderful wing feathers are just starting to come through.
The wonderful wing feathers are just starting to come through.
He stretches out his wings over the sleeping pair
He stretches out his wings over the sleeping pair
In the apartment above, the female has settled in to hatch her clutch.
In the apartment above, the female has settled in to hatch her clutch.
The nosey neighbours.
The nosey neighbours.
A fledged but not very agile young darter is preparing for a quick flight to the next tree.
A fledged but not very agile young darter is preparing for a quick flight to the next tree.

On Eagle’s Wings

When I coined “Birds as Poetry” I had some pretty specific ideas of the images, and the stories I’d be working to share.   As it turns out the birds took over and the excursions, “little day trips”, became the norm.

On Friday, I had cause to reflect on the original intention.  We were standing in the open on the side of the main road up to the peak at the You Yangs, (Flinders Peak), and a large black form took up all the sky overhead. After much pointing from EE, I managed to get the world back in perspective and there just over the trees above us was a Wedge-tailed Eagle, completely engrossed in its work. It was searching for an air current in the early morning light, and no doubt it knew where the current would be rising, it simply circled to find the updraft.

Which from our vantage point gave us plenty of time to take some pictures and then to simply put the cameras down and become engrossed in its mastery of the air.  It dawned on me then that the grace, skill, shape, texture, and activity of the bird was why we go out.  It’s that magic of the feathers against the air, the lift of the wings, the turn of the tail, the flexing of the wing angles, that are so magnificent and awe-inspiring that despite how many times we see it, and how many times we can do the math to explain it, the sheer raw ability of the bird to control all those elements with such seemingly ease, just brings us to a jaw-dropping halt as we enjoy vicariously the wonder of flight.

and that in a nutshell of a load of inadequate words is the delight I wanted to share with “Bird as Poetry”.

For perhaps 5 minutes the bird worked its way from air current to air current along the ridges. First turning wide out, and then running close along the cliff sides.  Then up, and around and another run. A Brown Goshawk, came out to challenge, but the speed, control and lift of the eagle made it a non starter, it went off to pursue its own activities  and the black flying barn-door simply drew its wings and moved on.  Neither of us recalls seeing it wing flap once to control the position. It simply wafted through the ups and downs of the air-currents.

In the end, it lifted vertically to a great height and  headed of across the You Yangs plains.  It huge head twisting right and left as it searched below.

We both breathed again, laughed at our good fortune and contemplated both, the elegance, and the command of the air, and how much better our day would have been had we decided instead to visit a shopping centre and listen to dreadful music, loud mobile phone conversations, be pushed and jostled by fellow shoppers, be assailed by the wails of small children who couldn’t get their way, and breath stale air-conditioned air.  Nope,  Eagles just don’t cut it 🙂

Enjoy our time.

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What about a trip to the Darters?

Trying to avoid a heavy duty day out in the bush in 30+ temps, we decided that a sleep-in, a late breakfast and a drive down to the Balyang Sanctuary followed by a coffee and focaccia at the Barwon Boathouse would be the tourist thing to do.

After all we’d not discovered the Boathouse when we were there last week, so on the basis of new explorations, we packed up and were on the road by mid-morning.  No point in getting there too early as the light is probably about as good as it gets by mid morning, too early, (like Goldie), and the birds are in shadow from the trees hiding the early morning sun.  Too late, (like Goldie), and the sun is behind the bridge and the birds are in shade.
What of course this clever plan had failed to point out, is that while we might well have nice light on the birds, it would be blazing hot standing on the shadeless bridge. But, of course we were to figure that out much later.

There are perhaps 4 or 5 nests on the go, but only two that make for reasonable photography.  The first is quite close to bridge and on Tuesday, she had two chicks only hatched in the past 24 hours as the Ever-vigilant Helmut had checked it out on Monday and there was only eggs in the nest.

Mum was still sitting proudly, and at first she only showed hints of the eggs.   EE began to ponder that perhaps the chicks had met with a terrible fate.  But, then Mum got up turned and there were two little snake heads bobbing about in the sunshine. Still at this stage featherless, but it was possible to see the little feather pins pushing through.
She spent a bit of time feeding them and trying to keep them shaded from the sun.

In the apartment above, the female had settled into the nest her mate was preparing on Tuesday, and she too had at least four eggs to show.
Just as the sun was making its presence felt, a loud Sqwaark, and the male arrived.  After the usual greetings and things, he fed her on a nice big,  fish? and they exchanged places. Which is pretty much an art form in its own right, as large wings, big feet and awkward bodies dance around on thin branches.  But, to their credit it does work, and he ended up sitting on the eggs and she preened and went for a long breakfast.

We stayed long enough to see the male come into flat 1, and then decided the heat on the bridge was beyond a joke, I’d answered, “what kind of birds are they?” and “what are you doing?” questions for the week, and we meandered down the track toward the coffee shop.  Maybe Routley’s Pie Shop next time.

"Honey, I'm home". Male comes in with a snack, and is ready to do his time looking after the eggs.
“Honey, I’m home”. Male comes in with a snack, and is ready to do his time looking after the eggs.
Just changed over. She has time for a preen before flying out. His tail can be seen behind her on the nest.
Just changed over. She has time for a preen before flying out. His tail can be seen behind her on the nest.
Tiny little snake heads in the sunshine
Tiny little snake heads in the sunshine
Even at this young age they are feed from within her throat.
Even at this young age they are fed from within her throat.
Ready to fly.
Ready to fly.
Airborne, just have to avoid all the tree branches.
Airborne, just have to avoid all the tree branches.
Mum and young. Not yet feathered, and still unable to stand properly, they do know where the food comes from.
Mum and young. Not yet feathered, and still unable to stand properly, they do know where the food comes from.
Family portrait.
Family portrait.
Male sitting on the nest. He must get remarkably hot in the sunshine in that black suit.
Male sitting on the nest. He must get remarkably hot in the sunshine in that black suit.
As delicate as the female, he re-arranges his charge of four eggs.
As delicate as the female, he re-arranges his charge of four eggs.

Werribee Wagtails Bus Tour

Werribee Wagtails meet once a month on the first Tuesday of said months.  They are a really dedicated group of birdwatchers and we find ourselves well pleased to have become part of the mob.

For March the trip was by Community Bus down to Geelong and beyond. So we arrived at the meeting spot ready to go.  Now the bus had been booked out  and we had chosen instead to convey down in the traditional spirit of motoring.   However some bookees had not taken up the opportunity and so we found ourselves loading food, chairs, cameras and bodies onto the bus.

The first stop was to be Queen’s Park, and a walk along the River to the Balyang Sanctuary.   Last seasons, thanks to me mate Helmut of Flickr fame, we had a couple of trips down there to find the Darters nesting next to the bridge.  Our original plan, sans bus, was to go directly there and wait for the walkers to turn up.  So we sat on the bus as everyone unloaded and despite clever arguments about Tawny Frogmouth, and Gang-Gangs, we stuck to the plan.  With a “swish” the door closed and our driver took us to the next carpark.

The weather was offering  some good sunshine so it was likely that we’d get some great shots; and we did.  Top must be for the mother Darter, whose first two young had just hatched.  These scrawny looking featherless creatures had her full attention, and while the nest is quite large, one can only imagine the complexity of moving those big webbed feet of hers around without damaging her newly hatched and yet to be hatched off -spring.

Not knowing much about the habits of Darters, I was pretty amazed to find that both male and female incubate and feed the young. But the male is the hard worker on building the nest.  At least to providing all the necessary sticks and things to make the nest.  As it turned out on this trip, one male was busy on the apartment above, moving sticks in to position.

Where all this happens is within a stone’s throw, (probably OHS insensitive), so 26.498 metres from the edge of the main traffic bridge over the Barwon River.  This bridge carries a flow of heavy duty vehicles and the bridge moves as they thunder over it,  it also has a constant stream of joggers, cyclists, walkers, babystollers and group exercisers. Which all means that the poor old stationary photographer is being jostled and ‘ding’ed at on the narrow walkway.   But, the birds don’t seem to care.

Pointing the lens at the darters on their nests brings comments such as “Oh, what are they?”  “How long have they been there?”  “I’ve lived in the area for x years and I’ve never seen them before”. “What are you going to use the pictures for?”  “That’s a big lens, do you need  a permit for it?” and of course the inevitable, “What do you think you’re doing?”   But the best of the day was from the groupathon bike riders. “We’re  strange birds, take our picture!”

Just as the bus driver was warming up the bus, a mother Darter came in with a snack for one of the kids.  Lots of wing waving and head bobbing as she positioned herself and the lucky young chick to receive the treat.   And then it was back on the bus, and Hi Ho Silver, away.  We went on toward Barwon Heads to look for waders and water birds.

After a lunch under a spreading tree with the breeze pleasingly  blowing through the shade it was a bit hard to get going for an afternoon foray for birds.  And then.  A bird count of 63 for the day, and we were back in the bus on the way home.

Coffee at the local and a pleasant day drew to a close.

Female Darter preening among the autumn colours
Female Darter preening among the autumn colours
Such a big bird and such delicate looking young
Such a big bird and such delicate looking young
The two little ones must have hatched that morning.
The two little ones must have hatched that morning.
Not only Darters, but a range of Cormorants as well.
Not only Darters, but a range of Cormorants as well.
Male Australasian Darter hard at work on the next nest.
Male Australasian Darter hard at work on the next nest.
Two juveniles waiting patiently in the sunshine for breakfast.
Two juveniles waiting patiently in the sunshine for breakfast.
"Look there's Mum!  She's got something for me.  Patience has deserted them.
“Look there’s Mum! She’s got something for me. Patience has deserted them.

DSC_4111

You want me to put my head in your mouth!
You want me to put my head in your mouth!
It looks dangerous, but the species has managed to survive.
It looks dangerous, but the species has managed to survive.
There's got to be a fish down here somewhere.
There’s got to be a fish down here somewhere.

Meeting at the “Blokes Shed”

Was pondering the weather map, and thinking  about the following days, when ‘ding’ went the email, and a request for a run down to the Western Treatment Plant.  Ok I responded.  Just thinking about it, when ‘ding’ went the email, and an another request for info about our next trip down to the WTP.

See I don’t believe in co-incidences, alignment of the spheres or tea leaf readings but it seemed like we were going down with a full car.

So I phoned to book.  When I suggested I’d have 3 passengers, the “What, in your little car!!” made me think a bit. But I responded it would be ok, they could breath alternatively.

Richard, of the Woodlands lists was going to meet us down there, and Mr An Onymous (not so much any more it seems), would travel with us.

Come the morning, and the ‘Clear Blue” skies promised were more your murky grey. But we went. (Apologies once again to the Banjo)

We had hardly picked up Richard and entered the T Section than we bumped into Ian, and company.  So much talk about various varieties of birds in the area.  Then another car turned up.  Ray, had come down for the morning as well.  Ray’s “So, you’re Mr An Onymous” filled the air with laughter as we realised the secret was out.  So we all stood around and do what you do in a “Blokes Shed”. Talk.

Meanwhile EE was sitting in the car.  “What is this a Blokes Shed?”  she asked.  “I could have stayed at home!”.  So we decided it was time to move on.

Over on the Spit Road, we were ambling along, plenty to look at when I noted a dark shape on a post on the side of the road. That big, it must be a Sea-eagle. But I kept quite, and surprisingly 6 eyes looking out were so busy they hadn’t seen it. Finally EE had to say, “What is that big shape on the other side of the road”.  We edged closer.  Then we edged even closer. Now we really had some good shots. But of course the urge to get out of the car for a better photo won over and the car doors opened.  Well at least I got some nice shots of it flying away.

We also were amused for awhile by a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite in its beautiful young ginger colours.   And then just as we were leaving, I heard a familiar call and moved the car back down the road.  Everyone of course was unsure, but there. On the tree by the side of the road, an Australian Hobby.  Moving the car to get a better shot we waited while a van came down the road.  “It will fly,” was the consensus, but no.  It sat still, and I put the car in a better place for a good series of pictures. Super.

By the end of the morning we’d scored 8 different raptors and seen, thanks to Richard, some Blue-billed Ducks, and a large number of Stints, various Sandpipers, a number of Greenshanks and a few waders that we just couldn’t figure out.
Ian and company added Pectoral, and Broadbilled to their list, and we all got a good view of at least two Double-banded Plovers.(a first time for me!).

By the time we were ready to go the clouds were gathering up and some sunlight began to shine through. But we’d had a good day, and the Blokes Shed again proved to be a great conversation place.

Curlew Sandpiper beginning to put on its mating colours
Curlew Sandpiper beginning to put on its mating colours
Sandpipers at work.
Sandpipers at work.
Double-banded Plover in its lovely ginger/orange tones.
Double-banded Plover in its lovely ginger/orange tones.
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Young White-bellied Sea-eagle. I'd like to think we didn't put it up, but have to admit it was leaving because we arrived.
Young White-bellied Sea-eagle. I’d like to think we didn’t put it up, but have to admit it was leaving because we arrived.
Whistling Kite wondering why the Sea Eagle took off.
Whistling Kite wondering why the Sea Eagle took off.
Young Black-shouldered Kite, entertained us as it learned wind hovering techniques.
Young Black-shouldered Kite, entertained us as it learned wind hovering techniques.
A lovely Australian Hobby.  I think these are the most beautifully marked Aussie Raptors
A lovely Australian Hobby. I think these are the most beautifully marked Aussie Raptors
Probably the find of the day.  Black Falcon
Probably the find of the day. Black Falcon