Off to see Ambrose

This is one of those posts that’s a bit out of sequence.  Just had other things to post.

A couple of weeks back we had a morning free and decided to go and visit with our friend Ambrose, the Rose Robin.

He had decided to winter over in a small patch of scrub away from the highway, and near a used, but not well maintained track.  To get to it, we’d follow the track a bit, then move onto some well formed Kangaroo pads.  The ‘roo pads are easier to walk, and they don’t waste any uphill/downhill meandering.  Very energy conscious is your Eastern Grey, so they tend to take the easiest way along a creek line or over a ridge.  Their number one rule: “Don’t loose height, and avoid the thick scrub”  So its usually pretty flat, and always interesting walking.

When we got the stand of wattle that Ambrose had called home, I was pretty flabbergasted to find that some local “Landcare (?)” group had decided to clean up the undergrowth and pile all the logs, sticks and leaves into one great big heap at the end of the stand.  Of course this meant for the birds, all the normal perching, hunting and hiding places were now removed.   I could just imagine how this happened with a handful of ‘community’ minded folk ‘taking care of the scrub’ in their area.  No doubt with motorised “Bush Whackers” to clean up the offending leaves, grass and stubborn undergrowth.  And there would have been of course the good natured yelling and joking with one another as they scoured the tiny moss beds with the equipment, dragging of logs, and stomping with boots.  All to go home at night to their respective dwellings, having completely ruined the environment for the winter overing birds.  It would be like going to their house,  piling all at the furniture and belongings in one corner, and then emptying out the pantry too.!

Any wonder then as we stood there in the  Landcare (?) equivalent of a moon scape that the usual Thornbills, Wrens, Flame Robins, Whistlers, Honeyeaters and Fantails, were not only no where to be seen, but not even heard.  A pity as this little block of wattle had been a bit of a honeypot over winter.

After 20 minutes of sitting and listing, it was pretty obvious that the friendly character of Ambrose was also not going to make an appearance.  In protest, I redistributed a handful of the “Landcare (?)” pile of logs across the moss beds, and we decided to go elsewhere.

As we were swinging out of the wattle stand, across the open area I spied a flash of grey and magenta.   He was there.   I don’t do bird calls, either vocal or recorded (see the sidebar), but I feel confident enough with this bird to talk to him…   And he came over.
Now if Robins can do indignant he had every right I reckon, but he simply chirruped  (It’s a bit like a single note on a mouth organ), and began to hunt around the tops of the wattles.  Occasionally coming down to see if I was following.  For the next half an hour or so, this delightful little bird graced us with his presence, stopping to pose, and happy to turn his head when I spoke. I know I’ve quoted Jon Young before, but here he is again:

If we don’t barge in and kick up a big flock of frightened birds – if we replace collision with connection, learn to read the details, feel at home, relax, and are respectful- ultimately the birds will yield to us the first rite of passage: a close encounter with a bird otherwise wary of our presence.

So we sat and chatted, he hunted, entertained us with his chirrup, and ultimately sat on a stick a couple of metres away and preened.  He hunted so close at one stage that I said to him, “If you get any closer, mate,  you’ll be in my pocket and I’ll have to take you home!”

In the end we had to say goodbye and I could hear Jon Young again:

 To understand we must slowly but surely expand the sphere of awareness and shrink the sphere of disturbance by learning and practicing good etiquette. We begin to start seeing and hearing more birds.

Hello Ambrose, hope you’ll be polite enough to come back next season.

Oh, there you are. Will you accept visitors.
Oh, there you are. Will you accept visitors.
Relaxed and entertaining
Relaxed and entertaining
Shall I pose here, or would you like me on the other log?
Shall I pose here, or would you like me on the other log?
Any closer and you'll be coming home with me.
Any closer and you’ll be coming home with me.
Magenta on Green. What a great combo.
Magenta on Green. What a great combo.

… And you don’t mess around with Jim! Or his territory

One of the delights of  photographing out at Werribee River Park, is the awesome amount of raptors that call the area home, or at least call it the Supermarket.  

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past about a spot we’ve taken to sitting near a bend in the river under some old River Redgums and watching the comings and goings from a distinguished looking old dead tree on the far side of the river.

We noted the past couple of times activity by a pair of Black Kites, and with a bit of detective work, a heap of guessing and smidgen of luck we’ve decided they have a nest in the area.  We’ve seen them at work building the nest, going through the necessary motions of creating the eggs to go in to the nest, and watched the male feed the good lady.

Over the weeks their activity has become obvious, and as they always seem to leave and reappear from one direction, and the variety of calls coming from that area, its been possible to isolate what ‘quarter’ the nest is located.  

Now, I’m not a bird-nester, even as a little tacker, I just couldn’t get with the programme of climbing up, taking eggs and then ‘blowing’ them and popping them into shoeboxes, or old discarded cigar boxes, all laid out on cotton wool.  Not a height thing, after all small boys were made to climb.  Well they used to be, until it became politically incorrect in some Occupational Health and Safety manual. 

Just couldn’t seem to have the need to deprive birds of eggs.  Mind you the morals of a 10year old are bit hard to fathom; if you start to unravel all the pieces: Doctor, should I lay on the couch now? 

Wind forward to the present day, and while I like to be able, still, to find a bird’s nest, perhaps for the same reason as a girl’s essay, quoted in Mateship with Birds, by A.H. Chesterton, who said,

“The Wagtail’s nest is beautiful,
with the eggs it is more beautiful
with the fond mother sitting on the nest it is most beautiful.”

So it became obvious to both EE and I, that a trip to the other side of the river was going to be essential. If for no other reason than to see how ‘beautiful’ it was.

Now as luck, and the fine work of the Parks people, a bridge over said river had been provided, so like Billie Goats Gruff, we set off. 

Big pile of sticks up in a tree, seemed to be a pretty good idea of what to look for, and as we crossed the bridge and checked trees, at least we had found trees that didn’t fit the scheme. And then.  She flew in.

And a few steps more and off the track, and there was the nest, seen, but not easy to photograph.  So I meandered up the track about 50m, and found a small clearing and was able to move in the extra 75m or so, to get a good view of both the nest and a long black tail protruding out.  One or two shots, and I turned to go back the way I’d come.

Which, in simple 10 year old boy, thought was seemingly pretty easy.   But while I’d been spying out the lay of the land, I’d been spied on by the male Black Kite, and he’d ‘cunningly’ eased his way through the trees and now sat on a branch that literally barred my way back to the bridge.  At first I thought I’d try my luck, but his calls changed to a hoarse bark, and each step I took, he raised the scale.  He was about 30m up, and about 40 m from me. When he launched.

Not your jump off the branch, flap a bit and glide off down the river, but. 

Launch.  Coiled up those long muscular legs under him, turned sideways over the branch, and then with maximum propulsion launched like a torpedo, wings up before he started, so as to get the maximum speed at launch. Straight toward me. Barking in a very shrill and agitated way. How close he went by, I don’t know.  I was ducking behind the camera held up and out.  But given the space it would have been not much more than 5 metres.  He barrelled down the small cleaning and did  fast sweeping turn at the end, and headed back, but this time at least i got of 3 frames. As he went past, I made it to the track and back the way I’d come.  He landed on a branch across the track, behind me,  and barked. I turned to see and he did the same launch, but this time away from me, the power of the throw is simply spectacular. 

Most of my experience with Black Kites has lead me to the (false) assumption that they were fairly docile easy going dudes.  

I’ve seen them follow a tractor for hours in a paddock, up, and down, pulling out at the end of the run, two wing flaps for speed, and then back on the track of the tractor and keeping station with its speed.  I’ve seen over 100 of them all in the air at the same time, dropping out of the high sky, like airborne paratroopers. Invisible a first and then as they descend more and more becoming visible.  I’ve had them waft over my position just to see what I’m doing, and pass close enough to see them breath, but I’ve never crossed the line with one before.   

As I got back to Billie Goats Gruff bridge, EE passed on the best help of the day.  “That was close and you are white!”

I decided to call him Jim.  There is a song by Jim Croce, which has the lines

You don’t tread on Superman’s cape, 
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t take the mask of the ole Lone Ranger
And
You don’t mess about with Jim.

Me. Well I changed lenses, and went off to photograph reflections in the water for awhile, much more soothing and less dangerous.

My main annoyance, as I’ve tried to explain on Flickr, is that I carelessly crossed the line with this bird.  A huge mistake on my part. I don’t blame him for taking umbrage, after all its his family at stake.  What I would have liked to have done is get his permission to be in attendance, and that takes a lot more time than just stumbling about in the bush.  I am a great believer in their face recognition ability, and I think it will be hard to become accepted by this bird now.

For that, I guess as Jon Young puts it, “Setting aside collision in favour of connection always  feels deeply right  Seeking to be a beneficiary of the Kite’s courtesy, and not break the treaty.”, is what we try to do each trip out. 
Given,I reckon she’s put in two to thee weeks already, and probably has another five to six weeks before the young is (are?) fledged, we still have a bit of work to do. 

Here’s the day.

Female finishing a meal on the change over tree
Female finishing a meal on the change over tree
Female on the change over tree.
Female on the change over tree.
Simple straight out launch to head back to the nest
Simple straight out launch to head back to the nest
Ah, there you are.  She is still setting in.
Ah, there you are. She is still setting in.
You don't mess about with Jim.  He has just turned at the edge of the clearning and heading if for another run at me.
You don’t mess about with Jim. He has just turned at the edge of the clearing and heading back for another run at me.
Male, sitting on a branch over the track. He has 360 degree views from here.
Male, sitting on a branch over the track. He has 360 degree views from here.
That Power Launch. Tipping sideways off the branch, and pulling the wings down for maximum speed. Awesome
That Power Launch. Tipping sideways off the branch, and pulling the wings down for maximum speed. The legs like huge springs just drive him off the branch. Awesome

Werribee Wagtails, newsletter, Wag-Tales Aug 14

Just a note to say have a look under the Wagtales tab on the top of the site and you’ll find access to the Werribee Wag Tales newsletter.

This enthusiastic group of birdwatchers have favoured me with arranging the monthly news, and I’ve decided to have a copy available to everyone here.

Hint: Its just a little bit different to the members one. A bit tighter edited an a few small housekeeping things left off.

If you enjoy watching, observing, counting or photographing birds, and you enjoy the company of other folk, you’ll soon see why we appreciate the outings.
Its been said before, but its worth repeating,  “Bird watching is not a spectator sport”

Enjoy

 

A day with the Werribee Wagtails at the You Yangs

Beginning to really like the monthly foray out with the Werribee Wagtails, good company, tops spots, usually  good birds, and yesterday good weather.

We met down at the Eastern Entrance and took a walk, all 25 of us, down the fence line track.  Immediately we’d started and a pair of Scarlet Robins entertained us, and then a pair of Jacky Winters.  Not to be out done a pair of Restless Flycatchers came out to play in the morning sunshine.  It could hardly be better.

A litre further down the track and we came across a family of Flame Robins, and then… It got a lot better.  We spotted a lone male Red-capped Robin.  Big news for me, as I’ve been trying to locate such bird in the area for the past few months. We walked along the creek line that runs on the south side of the “Seed beds” and came upon another larger flock of Flame Robins, and a pair of Scarlets.
The ‘whip’ for the day rounded us up, and after a morning ‘cuppa’ at the Big Rock carpark, and a few more birds, we took to the drive around the Great Circle Road.   Stopping at one spot we walked in to see a Mistletoe Bird, but it must have gotten the dates wrong in its diary and try as we might we had to admit defeat. Prehaps next time.  A big group of Crimson Rosellas, and a beautifully vocal Grey Shrike Thrush were suitable consolation.

We stopped again at Fawcetts Gully and there was a female Golden Whistler, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a reasonable shot.  Did see the departure of an Eastern Yellow Robin, but again trying too hard, I missed it completely.

So to lunch, and a Collared Sparrowhawk that whisked through the trees, much to the chagrin of around 25-30 White-winged Choughs.
We walked down to see the resident Tawny Frogmouths, and through the bush past the dam near the rangers work area, and there found quite a number of Brown-headed, and White-naped Honeyeaters among others.

After the birdcall, the count was 45. Not a bad day’s birding. Mr An Onymous and I went back past Big Rock to have another look for some Scarlet Robins we’d been working with the previous week, and just as we were leaving we spied another Eastern Yellow Robin just off the side of the road.
Enjoy

As an aside, the Editor of Werribee Wagtails newsletter “Wag Tales”, Shirley Cameron is handing over the job, and I’ve taken on the task.   Bit daunting as 26 years of love, care and attention to the group by Shirley sets a pretty high standard for the incoming ‘new bloke’.
One thing I’m going to do is add the pdf of the magazine to this blog, and you should be able to find it from the Front menu Tab.   Will make an announcement when the first one goes ‘live’.

To add to that, I’ve created a new Flickr page that will have some of the magazine photo content for viewing, also allows us to have others add material for the pages.  We’ll hasten slowly.

 

Yellow-rumped Thornbill at bathing duties, preening in the early morning sunshine.
Yellow-rumped Thornbill at bathing duties, preening in the early morning sunshine.
One of a number of Scarlet Robins for the day.
One of a number of Scarlet Robins for the day.
My find of the day.  One Red-capped Robin, and I can't wait to get back down to have another look
My find of the day. One Red-capped Robin, and I can’t wait to get back down to have another look
Pair of Jacky Winters.  Rare to see them sitting together.
Pair of Jacky Winters. Rare to see them sitting together.
Restless Flycatcher, quite happy to perform with 25 people watching
Restless Flycatcher, quite happy to perform with 25 people watching
Jacky Winter always a favourite find for me.
Jacky Winter always a favourite find for me.
Female Scarlet Robin hunting with a large flock of Flame Robins
Female Scarlet Robin hunting with a large flock of Flame Robins
Tawny Frogmouth, quite near the Main Office area  and completely oblivious to our presence.
Tawny Frogmouth, quite near the Main Office area and completely oblivious to our presence.