The Charming Tale of Timmy the Tail-less Fairy-wren

What’s wrong with this picture?

At first glance all seems well, but on a second take, well, its obvious.  Timmy doesn’t have a tail.  And there-in lies the tale.

Was working with a pair of Willie Wagtails and had been sitting quietly for perhaps 15 minutes or more as they worked out strategy and tactics for building of their new domicile.  If all goes well, expect more of that story.

When suddenly up pops Timmy.   And at first glance I thought, “Oh, another Fairy-wren”, but then it was obvious that something wasn’t right.
Happen to be reading “blink: The power of thinking without thinking”, by Malcolm Gladwell.  A good book for bird photographers as it suggests that the power of making choices in an instant.  Actually its more about the power of marketing, and why we all recognise a can of Coca Cola, even if we don’t drink the stuff.

But, it didn’t seem right.  So I looked, and sure enough Timmy is Tail-less. Otherwise a perfectly healthy Male, Superb Fairy-wren, and quite able to defend vocally his territory.  Also seems to have a flotilla of females in a bush area some 30m from where I was sitting and they all treat him as usual.  (That is giving him lectures from bushes).

So what happened to Timmy?  Something disastrous, or is he also helping nesting and has lost his tail in the process, or has he had a bad attack of the moults?  Or is its even more complicated. Perhaps someone has some info on what might have happened.

In our backyard, there are two resident Blackbirds. For most of the early part of the season, they seemed to be engaged in battles that were more than courtship, and occasionally I’d see quite a few feathers fly, and find a few on the patio.  Now, as they settle to nesting, and don’t seem anywhere near as aggressive, I’ve noted that both of  them are tail-less.
Other Blackbirds I’ve seen in the area are well tail endowed, so its just this pair.
Did they manage to pull each one’s tail feathers out in the ensuing battles?

Will keep an eye on Timmy,  will be interesting to see if he regrows his glory.

What is wrong with this photo?
What is wrong with this photo?
Timmy the Tail-less is however quite well vocalised
Timmy the Tail-less is however quite well vocalised
Takes a second to grasp what has happened
Takes a second to grasp what has happened
But he is quite busy in territorial duties
But he is quite busy in territorial duties
Atta boy Timmy.  Even without a tail, you are still the champion
Atta boy Timmy. Even without a tail, you are still the champion

First Catch your Snake. Magpie 1 Snake 0

Fresh from watching Alfred the Brown Falcon give hunting pointers for snakes, we were out at the WTP in the wind and the cold this afternoon, and to our collective surprise, a Magpie plopped down in the grass nearby.

With in a few seconds it emerged and with much delight took to the air with a snake in its beak.  Then we were lucky enough that it landed on a roadway about 50m up and so we went to looksee.
Maggie wasn’t that impressed with spectators, and after a bit of relocating sat down to the work of despatching said snake.
The high wind made it a bit more difficult for Maggie to concentrate, and to be honest,  I think it was quite cautious about its approach and even when the head had been removed after some difficulty, any slight movement of the carcass would have Maggie on the defensive and two steps back.
But it persisted and eventually got down to enjoying the remainder of the meal.

Well done Maggie.  And just to add a word of warning to others as much as ourselves we had not more than 10 minutes before been standing in that area working with a Black-shouldered Kite.   Time methinks to reconsider where we are standing.
Enjoy.

Maggie was on the alert all the time, any movement was considered with apprehension.
Maggie was on the alert all the time, any movement was considered with apprehension.
When you've only a beak, sometimes you have to be clever in the pickup.
When you’ve only a beak, sometimes you have to be clever in the pickup.
Quickly consumed.
Quickly consumed.
If it moves give it a jolly good shaking.
If it moves give it a jolly good shaking.
Hold, Rip and devour.
Hold, Rip and devour.

Snake Hunting with Brown Falcon, Alfred

I just about know this bird well enough now to give him a name, so Alfred it is.  I haven’t really met his lady as she is quite hidden amongst the tree with  a nestling.

Alfred has a tree at the end of the Office carpark, and will often be seen looking out over the paddocks.  Such was the case on Friday afternoon.

He is pretty dismissive of the human kind and simply sees them as passing traffic. So its not to hard to move around to get a good angle on this lovely bird’s rich coat.  Almost from the moment he landed, twas obvious that something had his attention. No preening, just a constant scanning. At first I thought it might be he was a bit wary of the resident Black-shouldered Kites.

However after about 10 minutes or so, he dropped quietly off the tree and whiffled down on to the bike track opposite.  After standing on the track for a few minutes, he stepped into the grass and again seem engrossed in an area just near him.

Then.

He struck.

And immediately lifted off with a small snake as prize.  Off to the nearest perch, the fence line, and a few minutes to enjoy his meal.

I am pretty certain that I can conclude that not long after he landed in the tree that he spotted the snake, and then worked out a best place strategy for his attack.  Then again once he landed on the biketrack there was some fine tuning of his planned approach and then finally the single stroke attack.
As Mr An Onymous said, “What incredible eyesight to spot it from that distance.”

Alfred just sat in the afternoon sun, grinning.

Dropping into his well sited lookout
Dropping into his well sited lookout
Alfred and his lovely markings. Looking out over the paddock, I think he has already spotted the snake.
Alfred and his lovely markings. Looking out over the paddock, I think he has already spotted the snake.
Pondering the right moment of attack.
Pondering the right moment of attack.
Ready to attack
Ready to attack
One single movement. Strike, grab and lift off.
One single movement. Strike, grab and lift off.
Closest perch is the best.
Closest perch is the best.
Now to settle down for a well deserved meal
Now to settle down for a well deserved meal
Time for a pose for a photo from his adoring fans and then a break for a little rest
Time for a pose for a photo from his adoring fans and then a break for a little rest
I reckon he is grinning
I reckon he is grinning

Finding Jacky Winter

We’ve been up around the Newstead area this past week.  Went up for the annual Werribee Birdlife (Formerly Werribee Wagtails) camp out.

On one afternoon in the RIse and Shine Bushland area we were quietly travelling through the forest, when I was pretty sure I’d heard the familiar “Peter, Peter Peter” of Jacky.
So we stopped and eventually I reckoned it about 500mm further down so we went to look. No doubt about it, a Jacky Winter, and quite vocal, and very busy.  The EE spotted a pattern of flying into one tree, and a few minutes later announced, like some magician about to pull  a rabbit from a hat.  “Look, she is building a nest!”.

Now of course you have got to have seen a Jacky Winter nest before to have any idea what you are looking for. Mr An Onymous who was with us peered into the trees, scratched his head, got out his ever dependable Nikon binos and looked again.  “Where?”  Which is a pretty good question as Jacky doesn’t exactly go in for high class up market building. If there was one of those ‘reality building’ shows for birds she’d be among the bottom of the backyards.

And there on a tiny Y in  branch was an almost imperceptible bulge.  And pretty soon Jacky confirmed that by adding some more spider web to hold it all together.

Hope she is successful.

Enjoy.

Ahh, Hello, Jacky
Ahh, Hello, Jacky
Now that is a pretty determined flight pattern
Now that is a pretty determined flight pattern
Look no further
Look no further
Not likely to add a wide screen tv in here.
Not likely to add a wide screen tv in here.
Good luck Jacky the species is in good hands.
Good luck Jacky the species is in good hands.

Standing in the Footsteps of the Great

I posted a couple of weeks back about the Alan (Curly) Hartup Exhibition at Newstead.

We took the time to drive up for the day, (well actually we stayed up for about a week, but that will become clear as more posts are placed).

Alan Hartup was, for those who are interested, a remarkable local identity at Newstead. He ran the local service station and so came into contact on a daily basis with most of the locals.  His other passions included photography and wildlife.

I had the good fortune, almost serendipitous luck, to have worked with him at several photographic conventions and national and international judging panels over the years. But always that infectious smile and the humble ability to take the time to listen to questions and help the person find the answer around them would lead to marvellous personal discoveries.  In the bush he was the consummate bushman. I’ve travelled the scrub over the years with many fine bushmen(and women), but none I think rivalled his ability to find, to read, to take note of, to ponder, to investigate and to tread carefully across a landscape as Curly.

He worked in a time of slow ISO (ASA in those days), black and white film, and colour film that had impossible slow speeds. Think 50ISO agfapan.

No mulitburst, nor long focal length lenses for Curly.  His work was patient, persistent and thorough.   A nest might take days to set up a hide, to wait for the light, to brave the elements and to wrestle with cameras, tripods, flash units and cables that were built by little elves with a weird sense of humour. And 12 exposures on the beat-up Mamyia C33 was your lot mate!   Still.

In the end it was never the photo to Curly it was the story of the bird.
Seeing his work harmonising together on the wall the other day as a body of work, (not of course his complete story), it was quite astonishing to come to the realisation that in  a visual way Curly exemplified much of  what Jon Young calls ‘building the thread’  It’s based on the story of the Kalahari bushman who says that each time he sees a bird a small thread is established which grows to be a large rope connecting both man and bird.

Curly’s pictures are a visible expression of that thread.  The amazing story of the Wedge-tailed Eagle with the damaged wing.  The intimate portrait of the Rufous Fantail at nest.   The exquisite shots of the Possum taken from his living room while watching tv!!  The stunning find of the White-browed Babbler on a nest.  A bird for most who now walk the Newstead forest areas have yet to see in the area.

Complete involvement.  Can’t be taught has to be experienced.

We had, that morning, early before the sun was up, enjoyed the company of a  pair of White-faced Herons and their three delightful young on the nest. We’d moved locations to be entertained by White-browed Scrubwrens several of which were happy to feed not only at my feet but alongside my elbow resting on a log for support. To stare into those little bright eyes and ponder the intelligences going on in there. And then just before we went to the exhibition opening; to be enamoured by a pair of White-throated Treecreepers (See EE on Flickr for those – see here), as they worked hard on a tiny opening in a tree to provide their soon coming family with a safe secure home.  Building threads. Surely the reason we’d travel that distance.

So what a thrill it was to take the time to enjoy again the work of such a man, and to enjoy the stories that he wanted to tell.
More power to Geoff Park (he of Natural Newstead blogsite – see here), and the Hartup family for bringing together such a body of work for a new generation of photographers to enjoy, and more importantly to experience.

Here few shots of the day under the old Railway Station at Newstead. What a great way to use the building and what a pleasure to have been part of a bustling crowd that filled the platform and gave a small feel of what it might have been like as new and old stories were played out.
And there over it all, the portraits that said so much about Alan Hartup and his care for the lives of the creatures.

Curly show

Newstead Railway Station, now the Newstead Railway Arts Hub.
Newstead Railway Station, now the Newstead Railway Arts Hub.
Waitin' for a train. Nope. Packing the station for the opening address.
Waitin’ for a train.
Nope.
Packing the station for the opening address.
What a grand location for an exhibition
What a grand location for an exhibition
Can't fit another body anywhere.
Can’t fit another body anywhere.
Geoff Park unfolds the story of the exhibition
Geoff Park unfolds the story of the exhibition
Good food, great conversation, amazing photos.
Good food, great conversation, amazing photos.
Each room, formerly the Stationmasters residence, made a lovely setting for the photos.
Each room, formerly the Stationmasters residence, made a lovely setting for the photos.
Tried really hard to get the Eastern Yellow Robin shot in.
Tried really hard to get the Eastern Yellow Robin shot in.
And outside more food and more talk and more friendship.  What a great day.
And outside more food. What a great day.

Golden afternoon light with a Brown Falcon

Just too much,  fine light, a great afternoon and a Brown Falcon that seemed to relish the warm weather.

This is the bird that is one of the pair at one end of the paddock from Kitty and Kalav.
The rich evening light really seems to make your average Brown Falcon glow, and this bird is not average.

But, the Kites, Magpies, Wagtails, Magpie-larks and Ravens all take exception to its presence.

The pair were hunting for mice and had developed, I think, a strategy to deal with the harassment.
While one bird hunted on the ground, (Browns are good at this), the other flew slowly up and down to attract all sorts of attention.  Leaving the bird on the ground free to hunt.  And, successful she was.

Enjoy

Wing stretch in the sunshine
Wing stretch in the sunshine
Typical Brown Falcons upright stance.
Typical Brown Falcons upright stance.
Wagtail sliding down Falcon's back. A pretty well co-ordinated attack.
Wagtail sliding down Falcon’s back. A pretty well co-ordinated attack.
Two Wagtails were among the team of harassing birds
Two Wagtails were among the team of harassing birds
Tree sitting to attract attention
Tree sitting to attract attention
She gets to leave with her nice mouse dinner.  She has just transferred it from beak to leg for the journey back to the nest.
She gets to leave with her nice mouse dinner.
She has just transferred it from beak to leg for the journey back to the nest.