Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Raptor Alley

Just a quick look at any weather forecast over the past two weeks would draw the conclusion we’ve been having a spot of weather at the moment.  And you’d be right.  The mushy cloud days, the biting cold, the wind and the rain. And mostly the lack of Sunshine.

Its not much fun for a  photographer to venture out for small birds as the forest is wet and its hard to get much light in under the canopy.  Big field birds become grey blobs against even greyer backdrops.

So it was a bit unusual last Wednesday afternoon to see the sunshine sweeping along streets.   “Grab the cameras and let’s go to Twenty Nine Road”, EE suggested.

So we did.

Two of the major roads that run through the Western Treatment Plant complex,- and don’t require a permit-, are The Beach Road, and Twenty Nine Mile Roads.   They both have huge paddock areas that these days are no longer used for the original purpose (the disposal of the waste from Melbourne), and are now farmed over for a range of farm products.  (Not for human consumption).   One of the crops is maize and it is ready for harvest. I assume they use it to feed the stock cattle.

One of the benefits of all this production is off course that the mice see the left over and dropped seed and corn as an indication of bounty, and begin to multiply.  And as they do, the raptors, not likely to forego a mouse dinner move in to match the increase. Which of course helps the mice produce more, and more raptors move in. …. fill in the blanks.

On a sunny afternoon, its nice to be able sit along the roadway near the harvested paddocks and watch the various hunting techniques.   Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites hovering.  Whistling Kites and Black Kites hunting from the air, Goshawks swooping through prepared for anything that moves, and of course the Kites being prepared to wrestle food from the smaller hunting falcons.  Add to that the pair of Black Falcons who believe any food is rightfully theirs and are prepared to out-fly anyone to get it, and a fine afternoon’s entertainment is assured.

So, rather than ramble here is a small selection from a few hours work.

Raptor Alley. The Beach Road looking toward the bay. The sharp eyed might even note a Black-shouldered Kite high on the rhs tree
Raptor Alley. The Beach Road looking toward the bay. The sharp eyed might even note a Black-shoudlered Kite high on the rhs tree
Delightful to watch them in the air
Delightful to watch them in the air
Australian Kestrel with an afternoon snack
Australian Kestrel with an afternoon snack
Taking a spell from hunting
Taking a spell from hunting
Another mouse down
Another mouse down
First time I've ever seen a Goshawk just sitting.
First time I’ve ever seen a Goshawk just sitting.
When I grow up I want a nest just like this. Superb Fairy-wren sitting in a disused Magpie Lark's nest
When I grow up I want a nest just like this.
Superb Fairy-wren sitting in a disused Magpie Lark’s nest
Pair of Black-shouldered Kites resting together
Pair of Black-shouldered Kites resting together
These are the bird of my youth, Sitting on a gate post
These are the bird of my youth, Sitting on a gate post
A hard turn into the breeze
A hard turn into the breeze
In bound for a tree rest
In bound for a tree rest
Australian Kestrel, tail preening in the sunshine
Australian Kestrel, tail preening in the sunshine
Black Kite landing. The post is an old sluice to control the waste.
Black Kite landing. The post is an old sluice to control the waste.
Fresh catch
Fresh catch
How tough is this mouse
How tough is this mouth
Female Australian Kestrel
Female Australian Kestrel
A late entry into the field Brolga at sundown
A late entry into the field Brolga at sundown

Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend

A White-bellied Sea-eagle with a catch is as Jane Austen once wrote, “in need of friends”,(well I paraphrased the good Jane just a  bit).

We are at Lake Borrie in the Western Treatment Plant,  early morning, far out in the middle of the Lake a young Sea-eagle has scored.  (Best guess is a Pink-eared Duck).

As it settles down to prepare its meal, out of the sky drops all the Kites and Harriers in the area.  Each one wanting to be the Sea-eagles best friend.  “Comeon mate,  share it about, I’m your best mate, maahte.”

The Sea-eagle doesn’t see that opportunity to increase its Friends list on FB and doggedly proceeded to pluck and consume the feast.
Not that the big birds didn’t try.  The Harriers tried their usual ‘spook’ tactics, the Kites a variety of out staring and then hostile aggression, the ravens a mixture of sheer cunning and brute force, but in the the end, the Sea-eagle persisted.

For the Technically Ept:  These images are shot on the D810, mostly with the TC 2.0iii on the 300mm f/2.8, Tripod mounted, with a 4kg bean bag to weigh it all down.  And the new addition in the D810, the Electronic First Shutter ,which eliminates shutter/mirror bounce on long lenses.  (Wish I’d had that with the old 600mm.).

Huge crops as the bird is so far away in the middle of the lake.


Black Falcon(s) up close and personal

It has been said by some, that, “I’ve lost my bird Karama,’ or more particularly that I’ve used it all up.  And given that I respect the insight of such greater thinkers, then it probably is true.  And no doubt the facts are on their side, most certainly in the case of hunting down the ever elusive White-bellied Sea-Eagle. My mate Lynzwee reckons it more a matter of wearing the incorrect “Bird Repellant”.  He might be right too.

But. That doesn’t stop me so much from going out and trying.  Well at least I rationalise that I can enjoy the fresh air and a well brewed Earl of Grey.

So as the weather turns we found ourselves on The Beach Road at the Treatment Plant.  Rumour had it that some Cattle Egrets were down there. (Truth be told, and don’t spread it around, we too had already seen them in the area, so didn’t go completely blind.)

The cattle have been let in to graze on the recently harvested maize stubble.  I think I talked about this in the “The Curious Tale of the Clever Kestrel”.

When we settled the car in close to the fence to get a good look at the Cattle Egrets, we also noted that said Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kites, Whistling, Black and Brown Goshawk were also working in the area.  Along with an ever increasing number of cars with birdos and photographers pulling up to share the action.

And that is what we all got.  At one stage 20 or more Kites were sitting post by post on the roadside and landing within arms reach of the bird counters in the car.  The photographers were using up lots of memory card space and batteries inbetween bouts of stories,  “Oh, I remember I was backpacking along the Birdsville Track and a Black Kite with a water bottle dropped down and gave me a drink, saved my life.” “Oh, I saw a Budgerigar attack a white morph Black Kite once”, and “Oh, look there’s a Light Morph Juvenile Brown Falcon with a mouse.”,” No, I think by the colouring on the left wing primaries that its a Dark Morph Light Brown Falcon, and what its got is a field mouse, probably one of a litter of 12 or 15.  You often see them, when…”

My eyes glaze over.

Another convoy arrive.  “Have you seen the Bittern, we’re looking for the Bittern, anythingheretosee”,  said while swinging Swavoroskis around nearly knocking me over. “There are some Cattle Egrets,” I volunteered.  “Where!”

“They’d be the big white things over there in the paddock with the cattle,” quoth I.  EE kicked me in the ankle under the car door.  “No Bittern”, Insert Sound of Departing convoy Here.

Fast!  Let me tell you.

It went over my shoulder, and I never even saw it coming.  (Most of the bird discussers never saw it going either), At that rate, and that shape, I got the camera up, grabbed several frames and called “Black Falcon, A pair”.

To which the flurry of cameras, binoculars, smart phone apps and someone still writing things on a field note book all searched the surrounding sky, grass, fence and paddock.
“Oh, look a Black Falcon,” cried one. “A Black Falcon,’ cried another. We’ll ignore the numbers of “Where?” as they outnumber significantly. Another flotilla of Land-cruisers and Subaru Foresters pulled up.  “Oh, look a Black Falcon”, cried one of the new comers.  “We must have frightened it up when we arrived”. (big sigh here).

“There is a pair”, quoth I.

“look look look, there’s a second one,”,  At last!

‘Our’ pair sailed down the Beach Road at fence height putting to flight all the dozing kites on the fence. Something about a black shape at 60kph bearing down on you to awaken your feathers and wing muscles enough to get airborne.

A foolishly lone Little Raven got a right dusting up by both birds as they barrelled across the road.  Mostly I think it was all in fun. They were just out for an afternoon’s entertainment.  A Magpie with some food also got a pretty good chase about, but no damage was done, and Magpie eventually made it off the paddock with its prize.

Then, they streaked back up the paddock, amused perhaps by the photographers, app users or maybe they wanted to admire the emerald green Subi.

No matter how I write it, it was the right place, the right light and the right distance.  All one had to do was point the camera, press the shutter and follow the action.  That is except for those who took a shot, then spent the next 10 seconds ‘Chimping’, you know, hunched up looking at the rear LCD image and going “ooh, ooh, ooh”

Now one Falcon is pretty awesome two, outstanding.   But off course everyone was following the one that had zoomed overhead and was now rattling down the paddock away from us.  As I looked about, (I’ve learned to do that), the second one came ever closer and was soon filling my viewfinder.  In the end, I called “the other one is closer now!”, to which all eyes peering down the little tunnel of the viewfinder had to readjust to the bright light and try to re-position the camera for a second series.

Bored with messing with our minds, (and let’s face it, that didn’t take long), they spun round overhead and headed off across the paddocks. Leaving us with. “Well, its probably a second year bird with a juvenile, … ” “I’ll have to get on birdline and report this.’, and “Let’s go. We are due home for dinner”.   INSERT CAR DOORS SLAMMING HERE


I offered EE another Earl of Grey and we waited for the Cattle Egrets to come back.


The Curious Tale of the Clever Kestrel

Don’t you just love a mystery!  You know where all the pieces sort of come together and  then.  There is always one more thing to learn.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the birds will come up with a new story.

If like me you watch closely then its likely you’ll see something that makes you say, “Well, I’ve never seen that before!”

Such was a sunny morning on Friday.

We were on the Beach Road a the Western Treatment Plant and about halfway along between 29 Mile and the Beach Road boat ramp. Near a crossroad marked on some maps as “Chirnside Road”.

The paddocks here have been growing maize for cattle feed and have recently been harvested.  This off course means the stubble is still in the field and a good chance for the average bright minded Kite, Kestrel, Falcon, Raven, Magpie, Goshawk and others to take advantage of any mice or other tucker, (think rabbits for the big birds), that might be out in the open area.

For the part of the mice, the harvest has obviously left much corn and seed among the stubble.  So with the population being diminished by the birds and plenty of food available for the next generation, the fecundity of the females comes to the rescue and a small explosion of the population erupts.

Which brings more Kites, Kestrels, etc into the area. So to your average alert photographer. (Well at least us, so ignore the alert part.

On just about every vantage point the big birds sit, and wait, and then fight and argue over a single feed.   In the air, the Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites are hard at work tracking the mouse spoor with their ‘UV googles” or whatever the bird equivalent is.

The Black-shouldered Kites in view of the abundance of food are already planning their own expansion of the species. And several are either well advanced in nest construction or perhaps even at work on hatching.   The Kestrels, are simply interested in stocking up on body weight for the long nesting/hatching season later in the year.
So enter, on stage right, our Kestrel.

We had been parked hard up against the fence-line, 1. To keep us clear of the sometimes busy road, and 2. to keep us clear of the sometimes very busy road.

We had to watch as the birds hunted just out of camera range. Swinging across occasionally, but for the most part the far side of the paddock obviously offered the best hunting.

We watched as a female Kestrel, with all the gliding hunting skill of her species sat motionless in the light breeze.  I remembered my early youth and watching for hours these beautiful birds as they worked their way around the edges of wheat paddocks.  In those days they were it seems to me now, in large numbers.

She caught a mouse. Swung over the paddock, not to the busy side, too dangerous to run the gauntlet of Flacons, Black, Whistling Kites and Swamp Harriers and scooted low down toward the fence line near us. Perhaps she had intended the post near the car, it certainly seemed that way from her flight path, but at the last moment, she swung right and landed about two posts down from us.  Cameras out, insert shutter noises here.

After checking out all was clear she mantled down (is down redundant there?), over the mouse and sat still for several minutes.  We waited.  Then for what seemed no good reason, she picked up the mouse, dropped from the fence and swished across the road to the far side fence post.  I had to concede she might not have liked our presence, but we’d made no move on her position so that seemed unlikely.   She sat, and then again mantled (see hedging my bets left off, down).

A few minutes later she stood, and dropped of the fence onto the grass verge and into some muddy area where the cattle had been standing, leaving hoof print holes in the mud, among the grasses.  Then she hopped about, as you would with a mouse in one claw, and then seemed to lose the mouse. At first I thought it must have still been alive and had scampered on her.  Then a few pecks in the grass, and she stood silent for a minute or more.   By now it was obvious she no longer had the mouse.  Gone!

Several more hops in the grass and she flew to the nearest fence post.  Sat, and preened a bit, then in an obvious move, took to the air and with a short look back, was gone back to hunting.

Fascinated, I had to go and have a look where she had landed.  And after a brief look about, there was the mouse. Tucked up tight in one of the deep hoof marks.   She had deliberately placed it so that the overhang of the edge of the hoof mark would cover the mouse from most prying eyes, (think kite, falcon, magpie, raven -competition).

Of course the why and the what are questions that remain unanswered.   Perhaps she was setting aside a snack for later if the hunting quietened down. She had made no attempt to maul the mouse at all.  One thing that I think is like the ‘mapping’ I’ve been talking about with the light Falcon, is she took sometime to work out where to put the mouse and then some time to reexamine the area from the fence and then again to fly over and get a good idea of the location. I know, I might be reading in my answers, but its food for thought.

I’ve seen a female before – for those who’ve been with the blog for a long long time think Elizabeth,- who would take prey that Darcy bought in and stash it in hollows around the nest tree for when he was having a hard day’s hunting. (Not that he ever did, and the young fledglings eventually took great delight in finding the stashes,  much likes kids on easter egg day.

So here is the photo version of that long winded discussion.  Curious actions indeed. But to the Kestrel, all part of a day’s activities. Clever bird

Just a little bit of drama

The sun was shining and the clouds, ominous in shape and colour were moving slowly enough for me to conclude that I’d get an hour or so of sunshine.  Interested in the Flame Robins at the Office so down I went.

As it turned out the clouds and the rain moved faster than the traffic along the way, but even so, I managed a few minutes in the sun. No Robins.

Just as I was turning for home, out of no where two Little Eagles decided to song and dance across the sky.

I’ve probably said it before but the Office offers one great advantage when the birds are up.  On the top of the ridge that overlooks the old river plain, its possible to get eyeball to eyeball, and in this case it was pretty much so. The two battled it out pretty much at viewing height.

Now, I’m not sure if I’m looking at two birds in dispute over a territory arrangement, or a pair with bonding in mind.  The amount of wing turn, claw defence and the like, along with the plaintive ”pee, pee” whistle of the birds didn’t help either. In the end I just enjoyed.
Hope you do too.