The forest gradually, quietly, and lovingly reveals its secrets

It’s no surprise to my (suffering?) long term reader that just on 12 months ago we relocated to the western side of Melbourne. It’s also no surprise that if you look back over the achives for this site, that the majority of my ramblings and my photos have tried to detail my amberlings through the wonderful Grey Box forest that is a legacy for Woodlands Historic Park.

This small section of forest, close to the airport, and close to home, was for many years my ‘backyard’. The range and quantity of Robins that worked the park and their actions and territories became pretty much my daily activity.  The coming and goings  of the migrant birds over winter was a never ending source of pleasure and expectation.  As I had the time to work in the area, the birds began to give me, I think, some leeway in approaching them, and several pairs of birds became so graceful as to actually come along and visit with me when I turned up in their area.  It sounds strange to relate, but there is something pretty humbling to have a small female Red-capped Robin, dance around the branches near where I was sitting and then drop on to the ground and feed around my feet. Her male would sit on a perch within arms reach and chatter away to me about all sorts of Robin things.

Then off course there was the Australian Kestrel family that gave me two great seasons, the Eastern Yellow Robins, who took EE on as a close personal friend, and their young, before they departed.

How it all comes about is one of constant wonder to me.  I like the work of Jon Young he of “What the Robin Knows” fame, and his work as a tracker and a bird language trainer (seems a funny word in that sentence)

I’ve quoted from him often both here an on Flickr, not because he is some guru, but because what he sees, and what he explains is by and large what I’ve been able to experience in the few paddocks and tree covered ridges at Woodlands.   People often want to know when  I announce “Oh, I photograph birds”, about all the exotic places I’ve visited to track down some special bird.  The surprise  is, I haven’t.  Most of the work is a daily practical, patient working away with the small entertaining birds in my ‘backyard’.

Here’s Jon ” If we’re in bird language mode, however, we’re moving with a whole different frame of mind and venturing into another’s realm with awareness and intention and curiosity. We don’t have ‘hunting’ (-insert birding/photography-) intentions. We have diffuse awareness, curiosity, perception and questions. We’re walking carefully, slowly, stopping and looking. Not sneaking as that fools nobody out here. Looking at every bird, sound, and movement as an individual. ”

It’s why in this blog you’ll have noticed that most of the birds get names. It’s not an anthropomorphical hangup, “its because the individual birds are not just scientific names, but creatures like you and me,” to quote Jon again.

So some say, “Oh, you are a bird whisperer”. No!

But I do listen to the whispers of birds. Their songs, alarms and companion calls -very closely. Jon says, “Add up all the accumulated experience and knowledge and input and you end up with a gut feeling of uncanny accuracy”

But as I’ve indicated above it all takes time.

We thought we’d continue to travel the hour or so to Woodlands on a regular basis and stay in touch.  What we found was it was just too much.  Too much time travelling there and back, too much time catching up, to have time to learn new stuff and just not having the right day/weather/season combination to keep up the conversations. So we have become tourists in our ‘backyard’.

We’ve also of late taken to working in the Werribee River Park, “The Office”. This is primarily a stand of River Red Gums along a short length of the Werribee River as it passes by the Werribee Mansion Precinct.

At first it was mostly because the larger raptors worked the paddocks and fields nearby and were worthy photo subjects. But not easy birds to gain the inner confidence, and always too far away to do much more than record their movements.

Down in the tracks along the forest, its mostly overgrown, (as befits the surrounds of a flooding river), and difficult and dangerous (consider snakes), to just get around.


We have taken the time to begin to sit, listen, watch, ponder and contemplate, to observe flight paths, and listen to retreating calls, and see the forest as more than a collection of big trees, but as a whole.


Slowly, very slowly, the area has opened up to reveal some of its secrets.  The Bream, that come up the river with the rise and fall of the tides.  The Herons that have made the Red Gums home for their young, to listen and occasionally see the Reed Warblers. And to see the big birds using the Gums as nesting points for their offspring.

As well as,

The range of small birds that have begun to work out their lives with us in close proximity and not be too fussed.  So we know where the Willie Wagtails are nesting. (about 8 nests as I count), how many Musk Lorikeets are working in the canopy, where the vocal Red-rumped Parrots are nesting, (about 5 pairs so far),

And slowly but surely we are getting some understanding of the conversations.

All this leads to a pair of Sacred Kingfisher who have returned to display and to setup a nesting cycle somewhere in the forest.
Their pleasing Kee, Kee, Kee, Schrammp, schrampf, as they work out the territory is always pleasing to hear. After nearly two weeks of working with them at a distance, the other evening, things changed. We were invited to share with them.  Now how do I know that.  Well, sitting on the grass around a feeding area, the female came down to about 10m and then quickly moved to about 5m and then surprise, landed on a branch within arms reach, called to its mate, and checked me out.  Considering me to be a nondescript, it hunted in the long grass alongside me, caught a skink and returned to the tree about 5m away. Connection.

Last evening we took Mr An Onymous down for a look.   It’s a long process to bring someone else into the circle.  But this gracious little bird found a perch and sat there while An got close enough of some good portraits.

Phased by the interaction? No, not at all, infact chose to pose on the left, then the right, how about head on. Hmmm should I look up.

What was awesome for me, (I was standing back about 30m, like to give them some room, both An, and EE were able to work with the bird over what can only be considered close encounters.

Now. Just to be sure, there are no bird calling, no food or baiting, no chasing or harassing.

We are in their territory, (and loving it), they call the shots, they approach or disappear, and it’s their connection that graces us. Jon calls it “immersion’.  And I’d do it even if I never took a photograph.

So slowly, quietly, almost silently, the forest has begun to invite us to enjoy the connection, and things change.


Here is a few images from my couple of sessions with the birds.  (They don’t have names yet, they will).

Snack one
Snack one
Snack two.
Snack two.
They are hard to see as they meld into the colour scheme
They are hard to see as they meld into the colour scheme
Bright and beautiful
Bright and beautiful
This is the male, he is much more turquoise
This is the male, he is much more turquoise
How cool.  A magpie just had to check out where we'd had breakfast.
How cool. A magpie just had to check out where we’d had breakfast.
Gotta think they are relaxed when they bath and dry off on the branch next to me.
Gotta think they are relaxed when they bath and dry off on the branch next to me.
She is quite interested in a small hollow in a tree above
She is quite interested in a small hollow in a tree above
This is the female, as she has the more Emerald colours
This is the female, as she has the more Emerald colours
Doesn't get much easier than sitting in the sun
Doesn’t get much easier than sitting in the sun

12 thoughts on “The forest gradually, quietly, and lovingly reveals its secrets

  1. Beautiful story and photos David, there is nothing better than to sit quietly, gain their trust and enjoy their company, even without photos.


  2. David, your post is exquisite and captures the essence of what spending time with birds means to me too. Thank you for putting it into words so beautifully.


    1. Hello Kim,
      Thanks for looking and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate that, and your lovely birds shots really do enable us to enjoy the moment as much as you do. Keep it up.


  3. I just loved this post David. I suppose it’s every nature-lover’s desire to immerse themselves in the lives of the creatures they are following. You and EE do it in spades – I admire that so much.


    1. Hi Tris,
      I knew when I wrote it it would resonate with some of us who work hard at keeping the magic of the moment in our images. It has been a pretty awesome week or so, and we’ve been involved in a number of activities that highlighted the mantra, “Bird watching is NOT a spectator sport”.
      I truly believe that Jon Young’s immersion concept is so right, and like the Bushman he often quotes, I see a bird, and build a connection, next time I go out and see I strengthen that connection.
      Hard work, well- constant work, but we enjoy every moment and as I’ve said in the blog, every so often, the forest returns a secret.
      Like my Tai Chi master says. “Oh, glasshopper, nature is very fair, it returns what you put in. Put in a little- expect little. Put in a lot: reap the rewards.”

      Enjoy the sunshine, and the rain, the birds do.


  4. G’day, David! I love your penmanship; it’s a rare gift! I also now understand ‘where you’re coming from’ (if you’ll pardon the use of an overdone phrase).

    I, too, have had some marvellous ‘close encounters’ with our feathered friends – as well as other fauna. I will always remember being checked out from all angles by a flitting Grey Fantail at Callala Bay on Jervis Bay. That was in my film days and the lens combo I had at the time would only focus down to around 2 metres but this GF was within that distance. When I eventually took up the digital ‘banner’, that was the chief reason that I eventually settled – well, for about 10 years – on the Canon 200mm f2.8L + 2x Extender, because it could focus down to 1.49 metres!

    On another occasion around the same time, I took my camp stool into the bush and sat still on it for a while on a warm day. After a while, I had Red-browed Firetails foraging near my feet. Amazing experience!

    I have downloaded a couple of your PDFs.

    All the best to you in your daily adventures.


    1. G,day Brian,
      Thanks for the really fine comments, I suppose, sometimes I sit and tis easy to write, and other times even I miss the point of what I’m on about.
      My Darling, Dorothy (EE in the posts- stands for Eagle-eyed, so named by Lynzwee from Singapore as she beat him in id one day on a trip to the Treatment Plant, he thinks she has over the horizon radar!!!), suffers from a chronic back injury, and like yourself is much more comfortable sitting in a spot rather then covering km in a day. Its one reason that the Woodlands Historic Park worked for us so well for so many years.
      Somewhere in the middle of all that I came across Jon Young’s book “What the Robin Knows”, it has, as you point out with your camp stool, a very simple premise. Find a spot, and sit in it, learn from it, and with patience you’ll be able to work out what the calls are for, what the movements are, how the wind blows and where the best perches are located. Its pretty humbling stuff.
      Your adventures with the Grey Fantail and the Red-browed Finches are such a classic of that story. Good on ya.

      Went with a bird counting group yesterday, ( I live two lives!!!), but we found a feeding family of Diamond Firetails. Counted 15, but didn’t make connection with one. Sad.
      on Fauna. I was once sitting along side a log, when a mob of female Eastern Grey Kangaroos came by. I was sitting right on the edge of the pad. They were so unaware I was there, it was as you say, marvellous. In the end one of them caught my sent and stopped, I could feel its breath. They all stopped, pondered, and then, considering I was harmless, moved on. Awesome morning.
      Thanks again, keep up the good work, love to see the photos you put up, and enjoy the companionship.




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