Whew, by the time I’d typed the heading I’d forgotten what it was all about.
But the pdf of the next Wag-Tales for October is now available for download.
Whew, by the time I’d typed the heading I’d forgotten what it was all about.
But the pdf of the next Wag-Tales for October is now available for download.
One of the activities that the Werribee Wagtails group, (now officially Birdlife Werribee), is conducting quarterly surveys at Mt Rothwell conservation park.
I’ve written about the park before, but this little piece of protected area is just to the north of the You Yangs and has its own unique woodlands and lovely rocky outcrops.
The weather was a bit on the average side, has been now for several weeks. But we none the less walked around the three areas and had a chance to see the forest in its late spring garb. There are usually quite a range of raptors in the air, and today was no exception. The number of Brown Falcons and Whistling Kites seemed a bit lower than normal, but with so much of the open plain for them to hunt, its not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the highlights of the morning was the call of Sacred Kingfisher, and with a bit sleuthing we were able to track down what I’d suspect is a pair. Whether they were looking for a nesting spot or simply passing through will of course remain a mystery. But it was the first I’d seen this season, so I felt pretty good. We also heard and again tracked down a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters, and eventually I counted at least 7, and probably there were a couple more. Again, not sure if they are nesting in the area, but they do regularly in the You Yangs and its but a mere wing flap or two for the travelling Bee-eater.
After lunch we entered the enclosed conservation area, and to our surprise we met “Fluffy” the Emu. She(?) is a recent addition to the enclosure having been obtained from somewhere, staff were a bit unsure of the details. But she (we’ll stick with that), is a bit human friendly, and came trotting down to see what the humans were upto, and after politely introducing herself to several of our group she wandered around with us and among us, for the next half hour or so.
My mate An Onymous was with us and had a green neck scarf that flapped in the breeze. Fluffy seemed quite taken by said scarf and made several attempts to relieve An of it, and when he wasn’t looking to take a peek into his camera bag, just in case there was something that may suit a growing Emu.
We had to leave Fluffy at the exit gate, so she wandered off to look for some other Emu amusement.
The Gannet Colony offered so many possibilities for photos that I thought I’d show a second line of the images.
I used the D7100 with a 300mm f/2.8 and a TC 1.4 Teleconverter. The camera/lens was mounted on a tripod, with a Wimberley Gimbal Head. This setup makes the camera quite weightless to use. And it can be turned at an amazing speed to keep up with most inflight. I have to spend a couple of minutes getting it aligned horizontally, so it spins around in line with the horizon. It also allows me to let the camera go, and it will remain pointed at that spot. (unless off course in a high wind, when it acts more like a wind vane, but that is one of ‘benefits’.
The weather was overcast, squally, high wind and dreadfully poor light. I ran at both 400 and 800 ISO, and all those with the new Full Frame cameras, will go “Nah, neh nar nee nar!” but I can deal with that. Mostly I never shoot no Multi-burst. First and foremost, my bird photography doesn’t need it, and I see no future in having 25 shots of the same bird on the same perch with only minimal differences. If the differences are that good, then my one shot will get it anyway.
The 300mm f/2/8 is down to f/4 with the TC and I usually stop down to f/5.6. No real reason, just old photo dude stuff. The actually depth of field gain is negligible over the short distances I work. If I want great dof, I’ll use a 12mm lens and stand up really close to the bird.
What became intriguing as I settled in to working with these birds was the size of the nesting flock. There was literally no gaps between nesting birds. What was even more interesting was that the returning bird had no trouble picking out its mate nor its landing spot. No, ‘Oh, where did I leave her/him? I wish he/she had a red umbrella so I could find them.” Nope, just fly over, point your beak down and land on the right spot. Super.
Invariably there would be some mutual ‘petting’ go on between them, and the resting bird did not always fly off immediately. Some were still in nest building mode and carried in the most amazing collection of seaweed and grasses to beautify the home. No widescreen tv or coffee machines.
When the resting bird took to the air, they all gave a similar ritual of shaking themselves mid air, or ‘running’ in the air. Perhaps a muscle relief thing. There was a constant coming and going and I have to confess that once I got into the groove it was easy to run off 15-20 frames on one bird as it swept in from the sea, or the rituals that happened on land. In Tia Chi, Master Lam would call that “Chen, or sinking, and Hou – agility, just to keep up with them. Thanks Doc.
Off course I had to edit them and the out of focus ones were minimal. And because of the Wimberley, hardly one that was a camera shake error. Quite a few were poorly framed as the birds sweep in on the wind at such a pace, and the best technique would be hard pressed to keep up with them, especially as many were well under 10m from camera.
From my camera position there was a little extent of deep blue sea beyond the cliff face and I tried really hard to get the birds against that narrow blue strip for a contrast. But, the small angle of the blue, the speed and my inability led to many that didn’t quite make the grade. I even tried hand-held at one stage, but tired quickly in the biting cold rain/wind.
My gear is protected by Lens Coat, and LensWrap. Both are waterproof, and I wasn’t concerned by the gear getting wet. Had it turned to a complete continuous deluge, I’d have probably retreated anyway.
Because the area is out in the open, not trees or shrubs, the light was still good enough to work with higher shutters speeds, and many were 1/1600th or above. So stopping action was moderately easy.
Here is a sample from the day, enjoy
Today’s trip was an early start and an hour or so’s drive to Portland. Destination: The Australasian Gannet Colony at Point Danger. This is Australia’s only mainland colony. We had, thanks to arrangements by our trip leader Iian Denham, the opportunity to get up close and personal with the birds. Iian had made arrangements with Rob Farnes, to gain access into the nesting colony area. Not right in, but up to a low wire fence. 5 metres is pretty close with such a big bird.
There are around 200 pairs on the headland, and they are nesting at the moment. Not much of a nest, but some seaweed and grass stuck to the rock with the most handy material available. Bird Poo.
Now the weather had only changed slightly from yesterday, and the main change being an occasional hint of sunshine between the squalls. We needed to leave the cars and access the area through a locked gate, and at the appropriate time Rob came down and let us in. About 14 birders and two whacky photographers. I’d chosen to run with the Wimberley Gimbal head. Given the birds were in a set location, and I didn’t want to be swinging that long lens around in the wind. Oh, did I not mention the wind. Blustery Southerly is how it was described. Evil intent wind with designs of sweeping me of the rock is how I describe it.
I also foolishly made the command decision NOT to take the long Driazabone nor my gloves, figuring the weather might hold. (shows how little I know about weather) Within about 5 minutes of being too far from the car to go back, the rain set in.
Most of the group headed for the ‘shelter’ of some low shrubs, but I decided not to leave expensive camera, tripod and lens to the elements, and hung on grimly. My hands began to ache in the cold. The Gannets seemed not concerned at all.
Just off shore (about 2 km) or about 3 wing flaps for a Gannet, is the main breeding colony of Lawrence Rocks, up to 6,000 pairs are out there. I could just make it out in the rain.
One of the opportunities for the birders here was a Cape Gannet that had attached itself to the flock, but try as hard as we might, we didn’t get a sighting.
I’m going to share more of the photographic challenges in a second blog, as I want to show a wider range of photos.
After getting back to the car, and turning on the heater, and attaching my gloves, we headed off to the Lighthouse area, for both morning tea and Rufous Bristlebirds. We opted for a quick cuppa outside, but those who ventured into the coffee shop, got not only a fine hot coffee and cake, but, just the best views of the Bristlebirds performing in the open. You gets what you pays for!!!!
After a look among the scrub, a walk to the top where the lighthouse stands, we bade farewell to the group, and began the drive back home. We had an appointment for Wednesday, and so it was impossible to stay longer.
By the time we were going through Port Fairy, it was lunch time and we were feeling just a little peckish, and the joint chief of staff decision was made to take fare at Port Fairy. Now- I recalled that yesterday I’d seen “Chicken Tandoori Pie” on the menu at Bella Claire Coffee shop, and we parked outside and then enjoyed a super pie, and another coffee. Things were indeed looking up. The service was great, the food amazing, and I found another pie place to add to my ‘Pies I’ve eaten” book.
To top it off back across the road to Cobbs Bakery and I picked up some Pasties to travel home with us for dinner. Too much fun.
We had a bit of time so went for another look along Gorman’s Lane. No rain, but, the tide was out and the waders were a long way down the beach. Too far for this adventure.
Here is some Gannet moments. More to come tomorrow.
I know that all good things must come to an end, but when the weather goes from nice sunny, enjoyable, to cold, rain, windy, it’s a bit of a shock. So we woke to hear the rain rattling on the roof, the trees bent over and the bushes behind our unit tap tap tapping on the wall. Didn’t look good. Pull doona over head. Nope that didn’t help. Today we were off to Tower Hill Park, and the Beach, and a spot of looking about Port Fairy.
Stoically prepare lunch. Nice hot vegetable and barley soup into the pre-warmed Thermos. That proved to be one of my best moves of the day. Pack in the Drizabone jacket. Second good move of the day. Step out door. Not such a flash move. By the time we convoyed to Tower Hill, not much had changed, except now I was wearing said Drizabone. And. It was working, and it worked all day. Isn’t it great when a product does just what it says. I would later stand on the beach and contemplate the bravery of early sailors in frail wooden ships that plied these impossible waters, and they used a product just like my Drizabone.
A walk around part of the lake gave us a few birds and the highlight was probably a Rufous Whistler, but it took 18 people quite bit of time to find it among the foliage. We went on round to the Visitor Centre area, and walked around the Lava Flow Track. Rain threatened and then retreated. Oh, good. We arrived at a Bird Hide, and were getting ready to enter when it became quite urgent, as a huge squall began dumping water by the tankful. Just as well we were so close when it came down.
Back to the carpark for a warm morning tea and some nice cake provided by members, and a look at several Koalas that were in the area. One took one look at us, the weather, and just tucked itself down even more.
Onwards to Belfast Beach, and a drive down Gorman’s Road. Its a great place, and if you are in the area, make it part of the plan. A inlet has created a small lagoon beyond the sandbar, and only at high tide does the water flow in. But its a great feeding area for all sorts of shore birds. We parked the cars in a small carpark at the end of the road, and I was getting ready to go, put on Drizabone, put on warm gloves, add rainproof to camera, and … what’s this everyone is coming back. “Oh, nothing to see?”, I enquired. “There is a large rain squall heading this way”, was the reply. And just as I opened the car door it struck. Pelted down.
So we sat in the car, and played, tic-tac-toe, I spy with my little eye something beginning with “R”, discussed the causes of world troubles, and in the end just stared out at the rain. My Tai Chi master would have been happy. “Ah glasshoppr, fold into your mind and see from within.”, so I wrapped the scarf closer and was absorbed by the universe. Eventually reality set in and the rain stopped.
Down to the beach. With a light rain, and a strong wind. Nope, make that a very very strong wind. In between the tears being ripped out of my eyes, I could make out a range of shorebirds, and many Red-capped Plovers, several Ruddy Turnstones, and what I’m reliably informed was a Sanderling. All hiding behind any cover they could find. Its ok with birders as they stand back and look with long field-scopes, but us poor photographers have to get closer. So I set about slogging across the windswept sand and settled into a spot near where the waders had been actively feeding. After a few minutes they returned and I was rewarded with some reasonable closeups. Imagine if the weather had been fine. With the rain, the salt borne on the wind, and the freezing wind, I lasted until the last man standing departed back to the cars.
Now to find lunch. Well the pre-prepared lunch spot at a sports ground in Killarney was at best windswept. So it was decided to go to Port Fairy and the rotunda on the quayside. Third best move of the day. Shelter. Warm soup, great company and a little hint of sunshine.
From there the walk of about 4km around the coastline Griffiths Island, into the teeth of the same gale was on the agenda. What amazing large waves and we walked past the burrows of Shearwaters. These amazing water birds with such flying skill have taken to living in burrows to have their young. Seems almost both out of character and somewhat unfair. We could see their dark shapes riding the wild waves about 1 Km out. An robust looking Lighthouse stand at the far end of the island, and we found a White-bellied Sea-eagle nest in a huge pine tree on the way back.
Next on the list was a look for some Latham’s Snipes in a water hole in the township. This piece of land is used by over a hundred snipe, but is in eminent danger of being developed into townhouses. Once more I was reminded that Birds Don’t Vote in council elections.
From there the idea was to head back to our accommodation. So we took the opportunity for a bit a walk along the food strip in Port Fairy, and ended up in a lovely cafe for coffee and cake. Bella Claire (see here https://www.facebook.com/BellaClaireCafePortFairy set us out nicely with coffee and some amazing Lime Cheesecake. Yum. I also noted on the menu board, “Chicken Tandoori Pie”, must make a note of that I thought. They also have a great little Photobook of the renovations and setting up, as well as events and ‘famous’ people who have been there. Great way to make a use of photo books. And… there is more. Across the road is Cobbs Bakery. No prizes for guessing where I headed next. Some fine rye bread and a great Scottish Fruit Loaf were worth the walk.
So back home in the rain, hoping that the weather might blow itself out over night.
The next day, we went out to meet up with the Wagtails that were still travelling down to Warrnambool. Several spots along the way had given them a pretty full day. The last stop of the day was at the Ralph Illige Sanctuary about 20 minutes drive back from our accommodation. We decided to meet up with the group mid-afternoon, and go directly there and have lunch and look about.
“Ralph Illidge, a photographer from Warrnambool, acquired this 40ha property in 1958. In 1975, to make sure that the property remained in its natural state, he donated the property (Bimbimbi, which is Aboriginal for “place of many birds”) to the former Victorian Conservation Trust (now Trust for Nature).
Ralph Illidge passed away on 11 April, 1975. It is the hope of the Trust that, through this Sanctuary, visitors will come to understand the foresight of the man who made it possible. Ralph Illidge Sanctuary contains, in addition to the native flora of the area, such rare wildlife species as the Long nosed Potoroo, the Powerful Owl, the Rufous Bristlebird and the White Goshawk. The Trust acquired a further 51 hectares (north of the Warrnambool-Cobden Road) in June 1987, which was added to the Sanctuary. The funds were raised by the Warrnambool Nature Reserves Society with contributions from foundations and the State Government.
The Sanctuary was severely burnt during the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. Fire demolished the original house and outbuildings and severely damaged the native bush and vegetation.” From the Ralph Illidge Sanctuary Website
This wonderful piece of forest is a treat mainly Messmate and its surrounding understorey. It is a tribute to the forest that in-spite of the destruction over 30 years the forest is in fine condition with lovely big trees and plenty of understory.
We arrived and decided that a walk to the ‘Creek’ would be the first order of the day, and besides the arrow on the sign pointed that way. Plenty of bird calls indicated this to be a wise move. In not more than a few minutes we’d found a small flock of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a couple of pairs of Eastern Yellow Robins, and a Crested Shrike-tit. As well as the other songster, the Grey Shrike Thrush. We ambled down to the creek area and a couple of very old and overgrown foot bridges led over the more marshy spots. It was about this time that one of our party discovered an added traveller. Leeches. Strange how a nice pair of white socks can take on a macabre colour set in a few minutes.
About the same time EE (well, you’d have expected that wouldn’t you!!), said. “Look Powerful Owls.” The emphasis being on Owls. We looked and through the dense scrub high up, sure enough, two lovely looking juvenile Powerful Owls, and by twisting you head around, and looking under the overhanging branches, it was just possible to make out an adult. The young owls thought we were the best thing to happen all day, (expect of course the possum breakfast, possum lunch, and possum dinner- but I digress). The heads, well the eyes mostly, bobbed back and forth to see these really interesting moving things in their forest. The adult (I’m going to assume Mum), seemed less interested.
After putting up with gesticulating, cries of ‘Oh the view is better here’, and “Can you get across the creek for a better view”, Mum decided it was all too much and lifted off and moved about 50 metres to another tree.
While I tried to get into a position where I could get a clear shot of her, she suddenly launched. And, Silently, wafted through the trees, scrub and overhanging branches, flicking the wings and tail to move effortlessly, and soundlessly to a tree about 100m away. It’s the second time in about 3 weeks that I’ve seen an owl fly in daylight, and the silent movement is simply awesome.
Back to lunch, and as we sat under the shelter, I was caught by movement on the other side of the road. It was a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins moving back and forth. After about 5 minutes, I confidently announced. “There is a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins across the road, and I bet they have a nest just near there!” Of course the usual guffaws and improbable scorn and how much would the bet be? ensued. Still to her credit, after lunch, EE picked up the D3300 and the 70-200mm and wandered into the scrub on the far side of the road. Within about 5 more minutes, she informed us, it wasn’t a nest. -and everybody thought “I should have taken that bet!!!”- “No”, she rejoined, “there’s a couple of fledglings!!!!”
Mad scramble to get cameras and to get into the bush, but this time the Robins failed to see the joke, and politely moved their offspring to much safer locations inside the bracken and downed timber. Managed one good look, and shot of one of them and a flutter of wings of the other as it abandoned its hiding spot.
Mr An and I took off to look for the famed Grey Goshawk. Now what I know about Goshawks is they are wily, furtive and deadly, so this was addressed carefully as we walked along a track. At one point a Grey flash of wings headed out over a paddock, but have to say no positive id. The rest of the group joined us, and we re-visited the owls, but no sign of Mum.
Back to base and a trip to the RSL for dinner. Regrettably no pie on the menu. So I settled for the pan-fried Barra.
Here’s how the day looked.
The Werribee Wagtails, (now officially Birdlife Werribee), held their annual ‘camp out’ at Warrnambool this past week.
EE and I decided to attend, and Mr An Onymous and Ms In Cognito also came down. We took a couple of days earlier just to settle in, and stayed at the Warrnambool Surfside Caravan Park, close to the beach, close to the shops, close to the … you get the idea.
Nothing like at trip down the coast to improve the appetite, and we stopped at Routley’s Bakery in Geelong to top up with one of their selection of fine pies, and a coffee, then about 3 hours later we settled into our accommodation in Warrnambool. Over a leisurely dinner, we discussed the possibilities and decided that a peek at Whale Watching from the designated watching area would be a good start. Only one mother and babe in attendance, but quite close in and it was fascinating to watch these huge dark grey bulges, roll back and forth in the swell. What got me thinking was the huge distances these creatures travel, and how this young one had just begun that adventure.
We stopped at the Hopkins River mouth, and after a walk along the beach had only a few of the usual suspects in view. We moved to the other side of the river and up on the cliff line and even before we had exited the car, Singing Honeyeaters were there to greet us. No fear of us humans at all as they sat on the bull-bar of the 4WD next to us, danced on the fence posts, swung on the fence wire, and played bump off games on the signage. Close ups were that easy.
A pair of Black Cormorants dominated the rocky area, and a lone Caspian Tern made runs along the cliff line just above out heads. Then an Australasian Gannet caught my attention as it swept along the rolling sea line, then out to sea, speed back on the wind, turning over the Hopkins outflow and repeating the performance about ever 5-6 minutes. Then it rolled over, and plunged headlong into the water. Emergering after about 30 seconds or more. Then after a preen, it began the run over the waves to get enough speed to become airborne. Funny to see it running up and over the crest of the wave, and the gliding to the next wave to repeat the running to get speed.
We meandered on down to the Warrnambool Pavillion Cafe Bar, for lunch.What a great spot with excellent views along the beach and over the harbour. We sat in the sun, and enjoyed great service and amazing food. I opted out of the Thai Chicken Pie, but had to look on while In enjoyed the fare. We did the usual thing over food, told one another amazing impossible stories and sipped coffee and tea. The biggest Pot of Earl Grey I’ve ever seen. Must have had about 4 tablespoons of tea in the strainer. You could smell the aroma all over the cafe.
From there our journey took us to the Kilarney Beach Area, and some more Terns, and a few Red-capped Plovers. Then on to Tower Hill Park.
Highlights were up close and personal with a squadron of Emus, a visit by the most beautiful Spotted Harrier, and a Koala asleep in the carpark tree.
Back along the road home in the late afternoon sunshine we came up a paddock full of Cattle Egrets, with lots in breeding plumage. Guesses at 60-70 were made, but the more we looked the more we saw. Good way to end a day.
Day two to follow. Here is how it all looked.