Drama in the skies at Eynesbury

Been awhile since I posted, but what with this and that and a few days birding, here and there, well, it just all got by me.

After the last week or so of near perfect weather in Melbourne, with light winds and plenty of warm sunshine in the 20s C, its been more than a body can do to keep up with the places to find birds.  But, all good things they same come to an end.
Today was scheduled to be rain in the morning, rain at lunchtime, rain in the evening, rain.  So no one seemed particularly excited when I suggested a trip to Eynesbury to look for Flame Robins. (would have gone to Woodlands Historic Park, but the Backpaddock has been locked out to mere mortals, as the great Fox hunt proceeds, at glacial speed. 40 hectares, one fox, it a bit of a needle in a haystack, and I suppose quite a setback to the Eastern Barred Bandicoot Programme.  Not that the Flame Robins know, and so their winter visit to the park goes on, and the best we mere photographers can do is press our nose up against the cold chain fence, and ‘wonder where they are!”   Oh.

So Eynesbury is an option.  EE suggested she had her sock drawer to sort out, and Mr An Onymous, suggested I watch the weather, but in the end he too was inclined to make the journey. Cool.

Can’t say I was too impressed when early in the morning, I was awakened by the patter of rain on the roof.  Oh, it’ll pass quickly, doona back over head, and when I next awoke, I heard the patter of rain on the roof,  Oh, it will be the last of the showers, back under the doona.  When I next awoke, the rain was, well, pretty consistent. Hmmm, then the ‘Rooster” call from the iPad and it was time to prepare for the imminent arrival of the Blackmobile with its cargo.  So I put the Dryazabone as the first to go  in.  Never know do you!   Then the cameras and some dry gear for them.

Right on cue, Mr A arrived, and we set off, nice and early. and the rain, well, it had stopped, and some claimed to be able to see ‘blue’ sky on the horizon. Like, yeah!

To round out the story we found some robins, drank some tea, didn’t get wet, and by lunchtime as we were wending our way back to the car, the blue sky took over and the sun streamed through the forest.  Lovely. So we turned aside, for just one more look see, and to our delight found some Diamond Firetails. First for Mr A, so that was good.

Then it all happened. Standing in the sunshine, we were assailed by the frantic Skwarks, and Chatter of a Brown Falcon,  looking up we saw  her belting across the sky, and in pursuit of a band (about 4) Whistling Kites.  Then it was obvious the Kites were after a Wedgetailed Eagle.  That was pretty evident when the sky directly above us went dark as the huge bird juggled for position in a thermal to rid itself of the pursers. But Kites are pretty much a match for a low level Eagle and managed a few good strikes among them.  So much so that at one stage, they kind of got tangled up in the exit from the dive and had to avoid one another.

Every body wants to get into the act, (Jimmy Durante), and the Brown Falcon, full of the chase, was in as well.  However the Eagle, simply found the thermal, and no Falcon can gain the uplift power of those huge wings and soon she was completely outclassed and had to drift back exhausted.   The Kites on the other hand, not only masters of the thermal,  but full of energy to gain extra height by hard work got well above the Eagle and then took turns at attacking it from behind and above.

The Eagle drifted higher and the Kites soon had to work harder to keep up with it.  What amazed us the most was the size of the Eagle compared to the size of the Kites.  Tend to see the Whistlers as big raptors, but really they are pint sized alongside the Master of the air.

With the sunny day well established it was time for a late lunch and a pie shop I know on the way home.

Enjoy.

 

Early in proceedings, the noisy Brown Falcon mixed it with the Eagle and with the Kites.
Early in proceedings, the noisy Brown Falcon mixed it with the Eagle and with the Kites.
The size of the kites against the eagle is well seen
The size of the kites against the eagle is well seen
Gaining height was relatively easy for the Kites
Gaining height was relatively easy for the Kites
Each kite played its own game in the pursuit.
Each kite played its own game in the pursuit.
Hard strike on the Eagle
Hard strike on the Eagle
DSC_3197
Sometimes in their enthusiasm they got a bit tangled up with one another.
Late in the proceedings and an exhausted and very quiet Falcon breaks off the pursuit
Late in the proceedings and an exhausted and very quiet Falcon breaks off the pursuit
DSC_3217
If they could get the Eagle to change direction they had a chance to slow it down.

Farewell to Waders: Altona

Birdlife Australia, in conjunction with bayside councils and environmental groups all across the country have been running an awareness programme titled  “Farewell to Shorebirds”

They have a web site, and videos and information about this year’s migration of these determined little flyers.   Farewell to Shorebirds.

The events culminate (I think that is the right word) with “World Migratory Bird Day 2014”  This is a United Nations sanctioned event and lots of events on the day bring an awareness of the efforts of those who are working with the birds and the supreme efforts of the birds themselves as they make their 14,000km trip to their breeding grounds in  Siberia.    Here is the link to the international organisation.

At a local level, the Hobsons Bay City  Council and Birdlife Australia set up a morning of activities and information  to celebrate the day.  As it turns out, The day the UN has set aside for World Migratory Bird Day, is the second Sunday in May.  Which as it turns out, coincides with our normal, “Mothers Day”.  The perfect opportunity for Spin Doctors and Word Smiths.

The event this year was held in a foreshore park in the Altona area, and as a ‘free’ bbq was promised, there seemed no reason not to abandon normal programmes and head on down.

The weather was sunny day, light breeze and relatively low tide. So the shoreline had lots of ducks, swans, pelicans, oystercatchers, terns, spoonbills, herons, egrets and more ducks.  But no waders!  Of course not, Silly.  They’ve left for the north.  So we stood around and pondered the flight of about 40gm to Siberia.   That is about 12 jellybeans.  And as the festivities, (and the bbq) got going we were able to view the variety of birds that call the mouth of the Laverton Creek home.

The local Mayor, Birdlife Aust dignitaries and the local ranger, gave some interesting stats on the birds, their habitats, their travels and the like.  The Spin Doctors were ahead on points as the connection to Mothers Day and the little tiny mothers, heading for the Siberian river flats was drawn to our attention.  Also not forgetting the ‘daddy’ birds who were also on the way, and without, if you’ll pardon the pun, their input, the process would be pretty much doomed to failure.  But I digress.

We were also alerted to the difficulty of the little travellers on their way and on the return because of the impact that human development has had on feeding areas.  (A point that I have to admit that cannot be too highly stressed.  Problem with a blog is you get personal reflections!)  I digress.

One of the issues addressed was the difficulty of dogs running free in Dogs off Leash areas. Just happened that is where we were standing.  And then like a stage managed concert, (Janet Jackson would have a been impressed), two large dogs,  decided that all this talk was annoying them, and started what is commonly termed a “Dog Fight”.  These were big brutes, one a German Shepherd the size of a small horse, ((Insert thought, wonder how much it costs to feed the thing for a year.) (Probably a small third world country food budget))  I digress.

So the whole event had to wait until the ‘Responsible Dog Owners’ managed to seperate the protagonists and things quietened down. Me,  whenever I see a dog salivating after a toe to toe, I know that its a dog under stress, and a dead set danger to others.  Still, to the credit of the speaking group, they regathered their collective thoughts and continued on.  However I think the point of danger to birds, dogs, humans and the like was already well made.  Well done demonstration team.  NOT.

More birds, more talk, more looking, and over to the bbq we strolled.  Well done team.

Thanks for all those involved in the organisation, their participation, and their friendliness and help to all who wanted to know just a little more about these wonderful travellers who call the shores of Hobson’s Bay home for part of their year.   We await with interest for their return, and the return of their new offspring.

A pretty good way to spend Mothers Day, or any day.

 

Hobson's Bay Mayor opening proceedings.
Hobson’s Bay Mayor opening proceedings.
Part of the official party.  Thanks team.
Part of the official party. Thanks team.
A collection of local inhabitants on the sands of the Laverton Creek outflow
A collection of local inhabitants on the sands of the Laverton Creek outflow
That is why we used to call them "Spur-winged Plovers" before they were called Masked Lapwings
That is why we used to call them “Spur-winged Plovers” before they were called Masked Lapwings
An Australasian Gannet way out in the bay fishing
An Australasian Gannet way out in the bay fishing
Tern closer in fishing
Tern closer in fishing
What its all about.  Birds relaxing in the sunshine by the outflow.
What its all about. Birds relaxing in the sunshine by the outflow.
I know, its not a Shorebird, but this juvenile Black-shouldered Kite was just sitting around.
I know, its not a Shorebird, but this juvenile Black-shouldered Kite was just sitting around.

 

 

Early morning looking for Brogla

Given the really super weather of yesterday, we decided to make an early morning run to the Western Treatment Plant and look for some Brolga that had been sighted.   So we went.  Early enough for the cold to be, well, bitter.   All rugged up we arrived down at the T Section area, and immediately found a number of waders that had not made the trip to Siberia.  Top among them was a Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage.  Even some of the Red-necked Stints that couldn’t get their passports stamped in time were showing the ‘red neck’ for which they are named.

At that early hour of the morning with the sun running almost horizontal across the waters, the mists can be a problem if you are facing toward the sun.  But, there in the distance and the end of the road, surely, yes, its two Brolga.   Not much photographic to be achieved from an overexposed, blurry shot, so we took the round trip on the roads on the bund and ended up with the ‘sun over your left shoulder dear’, as my Mother used to say.

They were both pretty co-operative, and eventually with a consenting nod, they took to the air to look else where in the Plant.

By this time, the weather man’s dire predictions were beginning to come to fruition and the light was, well, falling past average fast.

We moved up the road and found on Lake Borrie, first one flock, and then a second, of Great Crested Grebe.   I’ve only ever seen them in ones and twos, but here were flocks of 15-20 all with their heads tucked back, chests out and bobbing up and down in the water.   Very impressive.  Also among them was an Australasian Grebe.  So in a small area we had all three Grebes.  Hoary-headed, Australasian and Great Crested.  I’ve been told the Australasian Grebe are not found in the WTP, so this one either didn’t know the rules or had come by to visit with the relies.

We paused for the obligatory ‘cuppa’ and a Swamp Harrier rewarded us by working along the bund on the far side.  I was able to watch the patient, and very precise way it works along the reed beds, quickly backing up to check on anything that is out of the ordinary, and could be used for lunch.

A little further on and we came across a drama that was about to unfold.  A Swamp Harrier was being harassed by a Little Raven.  Now usually this is pretty easy to score,  Raven makes a few passes, Harrier ducks and weaves, and in the end both return to normal services as soon as possible.
What made this much more dangerous was the Harrier was obviously in a bad mood and in no frame of mind to be harassed.  As soon as the Raven had made its first sweep by, the Harrier dodged and then turned claws out and wings working  to cut off the escape of the Raven.  Now the purser became the pursued, and the Harrier was more than a match for the twisting turning Raven.  Its not the first time I’ve seen this, as I watched a Harrier grasp the wing of a hapless raven some time back and bring it down.  Eventually damaging its wing and then despatching  it on the ground.   There also on the blog is the story of the Harrier taking on a Brown Falcon encounter.

See here. The amazing story of the Harrier and the Falcon.

The Raven took to running to the reed beds – Bad Move.  This the Harrier’s best working area, so it made a direct and sustained attack on the raven at pretty much ground level.  But the Raven did have the ability to turn tighter and faster, and with what can only be called bird luck it made it to the roadway, and the Harrier figured the event was a thing of the past.    The Raven also decided that once was enough for the day, and took off across the paddock on the other side of the road.  Phew!

All dressed up and,  well, no where to go. A Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage.
All dressed up and, well, no where to go. A Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage.
Brolgas on a mudflat
Brolgas on a mudflat
Precision Preening Team.
Precision Preening Team.
Aerial feats of excellence. Swamp Harrier with Avalon Airport in the background
Aerial feats of excellence. Swamp Harrier with Avalon Airport in the background
Great  Crested Grebe. Two large flocks were on Lake Borrie
Great Crested Grebe. Two large flocks were on Lake Borrie
An Australasian Grebe among its Hoary-headed relatives
An Australasian Grebe among its Hoary-headed relatives
Swamp Harrier on the job.
Swamp Harrier on the job.
With a twist of the body, the head is able to examine in great detail the reeds below.
With a twist of the body, the head is able to examine in great detail the reeds below.
Total concentration
Total concentration
A couple of Whistling Kites enjoying the breezes.
A couple of Whistling Kites enjoying the breezes.
Legs up, and the Raven suddenly senses that the tables have been turned.
Legs up, and the Raven suddenly senses that the tables have been turned.
Hmmm what's wrong with this picture.  Harrier in hot pursuit of Raven
Hmmm what’s wrong with this picture. Harrier in hot pursuit of Raven
Well able to predict and react to the twists and turns of the hapless Raven
Well able to predict and react to the twists and turns of the hapless Raven
Time is almost running out for the Raven.
Time is almost running out for the Raven.
Swamp Harrier now feeling stress relief
Swamp Harrier now feeling stress relief
Whistling Kite resting from a hectic game.
Whistling Kite resting from a hectic game.

Our Flame Robin drought is finally over

 

The Flame Robins travel down from the Victorian High Country where they have replenished the species over summer and spend the winter in the lower country.  Bit hard for a little beak to find food under several metres of snow!

Our former main area of Woodlands Historic Park has been a major stop over for them as they migrate down along the bayside areas.   Some families don’t continue travelling but remain around the Grey Box forest areas at Woodlands and set up feeding territories and have been a great source of picture making pleasure for us over the years.   But, we don’t have close access this year, and the couple of trips we’ve made have been blocked by a large sign on a gate explaining the need for the Parks people to manage a fox that has managed to breach the secure area for the Eastern Barred Bandicoots.  So rather than having nearly a month of good work with the Flame Robins, we’ve been in a bit of a drought. Spotting the odd one or two at a distance is not quite the same somehow.

As we move into winter, the weather has also played its part in keeping us at home. After all what is the point of standing in a cold forest on a grey day with the light completely obscured by the incessant rain.  Not that I’m against getting wet, just not much point photographically.

Our friends,  Richard and Gwen A (he of Woodlands Birds List fame) wanted to have lunch at Eynesbury Golf Club and a bit of a walk in the forest.  Again this  should be a good area for Flame Robins, so we accepted the offer, and waited for a ‘reasonable day’.  It arrived. Beaut cold morning. 2 degrees, plenty of sunshine and little breeze.  Great.  So we, EE, Mr An Onymous, and I set off early to get a good start and work up an appetite for lunch.  We had previously found several robins in an area within pretty easy walking distance of the carpark and so we decided to start there.  Brown Treecreepers, a few Dusky Woodswallows, a White-winged Triller and an assortment of Thornbills were enjoying the change in the weather too.

We eventually found a small family of Flame Robins, and set down to work.   There is something very satisfying about sitting quietly while a dozen or more birds feed back and forth around you.  These birds have the name “Petroica” which roughly translated means “Rock dwellers” and where they were working was indeed the rocky side of a slope.  So we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the activity.  None seemed to really be too sure of us, but at least they allowed some good, if not great shots.   But like all good days out, it was both enjoyable and a learning experience. Armed with our new knowledge of the feeding area of these birds will give us a head start next time we are out that way. And of course, with such great little subjects its going to be sooner than later.

We caught up for lunch, and then had an hour or so to wander in another part of the forest.  Looked hard for Diamond Firetails, but had to settle for two Whistling Kites, and two Black Kites.  On the way back the fluting call of a Little Eagle led us to some great views of a circling bird.   No Freckle or Blue-billed Ducks on the club Lake, but we did see a golf ball badly sliced off the tee drop into the lake with a satisfying “perlop”.

Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Called "Rock dwellers' they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Called “Rock dwellers’ they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Dapper lad
Dapper lad
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Inbound
Inbound
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
Lift off.
Lift off.
Hunting from a low perch
Hunting from a low perch
Showing off her lovely markings
Showing off her lovely markings
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.