… 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
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

4 thoughts on “… And you don’t mess around with Jim! Or his territory

  1. Well, he certainly put you in your place! Great read David. It’s easy to think we’re in charge when we’re dealing with wildlife, so it’s good to be reminded that we most definitely aren’t!!


    1. Hi Tris,
      Good thought. Never want to get too complacent an transfer the good graces of one bird to the actions of another. He deserved my respect, and now he’s got it. I’ll stay on my side of the river.


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