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.
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2 thoughts on “Werribee Wagtails Bus Tour

  1. Fab series David. Nesting so close has given us a rare opportunity to observe the Darter’s daily doings. Hope you can go back for a follow-up session.
    Cheers,
    Christine

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    1. Hi Christine,

      They have used the area for years apparently. The nesting area is protected from the bank side by a huge drop where the river has carved away the bank, so they don’t have much threat from behind.
      People row boats, canoes and the like up and down the river, (it is only a few hundred metres from the “head of the river” event each year. The bridge over the river is a major highway feeder. So carries huge volumes of traffic. It also of course is part of the River Walk project, so walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, etc, dog and pram runners pour (love that word here!) over the bridge. Yet the Darters and the Cormorants take not one little bit of notice.
      A few of the nesting sites are sheltered from the direct sunlight, but open to view from the bridge, so its possible to see what is going on.

      Helmut1946 put me on to them last year and has a lot of shots on his Flickr site.

      We will try and stay in touch with them, as regularly as we can.

      Glad you enjoyed the shots.

      Regards

      David

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