And that I didn’t get a bright sunny day to go with it, is not nearly so important as being at the right spot.
EE and I had left home amid some bright afternoon sunshine and stopped for a coffee at the Highway Lounge at the Caltex Servo on the road out of Werribee. By the time we’d sipped one of Gerry’s best brews, and stepped back outside the cloud was thickening up to biblical proportions. Mind I’m not sure what separates biblical proportions from ordinary thick grey cloud, but..
Early morning drizzle, (and icon ladies had got it right!). Not much chance of a ramble today, and the sky is deep leaden grey. Lowering, the poets call it.
Brrring Brinnng. EE’s phone message do dah goes off. Scares the life out of the unprepared. Roll over pull-up doonah.
“It’s a message from Rockman’s the clothing shop, they have a 40 % sale on today,” In most excited voice. Pull-up doonah a little closer.
And there’s a Rockmans over at Point Cook, we could, well, take a look along the beach at Point Cook, then have lunch at the shopping centre, and I could go and save some money.
Doonah is now a ball around my head.
So, as you guessed. Clever reader that you are. We went.
Well, the raindrops on the windscreen didn’ t seem to be diminishing, and had turned to a light drizzle by the time we parked.
Found some lovely, active Flame Robins in the first few minutes. Yep, just as I figured. Not much light.
We ventured to the beach area. Low tide here, and most of the birds are well out beyond the end of the rock platform.
By morning tea time, we’d not seen much more than the usual suspects, and even the cormorants had abandoned the old jetty. Open the thermos, and enjoy, at least it wasn’t bucketing with rain.
Cahhh Cahhhw Cawww, from along the beach. A Little Raven was working among the exposed rocks and intent on telling somebody what was going on. Into the second cuppa and the bird had worked right up to where we were sitting. Then began the usual, is it a Little or an Australian Raven?
One of the most interesting calls these birds have is a really guttural purr. (I can’t think of a better word), and the hackles stick out when its made. And soon a partner arrived on the rocks, and they began a fine old discussion.
But a black bird on a black backdrop, or a white background on a really porridge grey day is not going to get me pushing the shutter with any enthusiasm.
Both flew to the top of the old jetty. And after a bit more discussion, the smaller of the two moved closer to the other, put its head down and. The larger bird began to alopreen it.
We tend I suspect unfairly, to have a low regard for Ravens. Well, they are black, likened — or associated — through our western culture with evil, hang around supermarket and food outlet rubbish bins, are a pest to all sorts of farmers and in large flocks are dangerous to small birds at nesting time. And if I’m not mistaken, the bloke in the Ark, let out a Raven to check the conditions, and the Black bird did not come back. Another strike against it. Yet of course, the Dove, always pictured as white, was the good guy. I’ve checked the old texts, and there is no indication it was white. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story
So to see these two birds engaged in some sort of pair bonding, (and they do, it seems, stay together for life) in such a tender way was really a highlight of the day.
And ‘we’ got to Rockmans, saved a bag of money, and had lunch.
The last burst of sunshine for a week or so according to the weather prognosticators, the icon ladies, and the general look out the door.
So with just a little light left we decided to go looksee along 29 Mile Road.
No Kites. Orion has hunted the area dry it seems. (Perhaps those Olympian gods can now justifiably enjoy their umbrage.)
Lot of noise on the fence line just off the road. A small family of Golden-headed Cisticolas were intent on something.
And putting it all together after the event, I do believe I might have stumbled on a Cisticola version of “The Gunfight at OK Corral”
Seems that two males were going at it with a will, and all the family came out to see the event.
One of the major tactics it turns out is a lot of Ztttt Zttt yelling, and wing waving and turning and flicking of tail. This last technique is done with back to the opponent so they get to see just how serious you are.
Hard to work out in this little melodrama who was Wyatt Earp, and who was the various Clantons, but none the less the seriousness of it all can not be overlooked.
After about 10 minutes of dancing along the fence, turning and twisting that little tail and much Zrrrtt Zrrrt calls, one flew off leaving the other one the undisputed King of the Post. Well at least that is the way I’m writing it.
My mate Chris L, he of Mt Rothwell, and formerly Western Treatment Plant, fame has established a monthly bird walk around the Eynesbury Grey Box Forest.
It is a pretty informal arrangement, no signing of paper and turning up is about the only requirement.
“Are you interested in coming on Sunday?”, he said. Hmm. Didn’t really have to consult the diary. “Be there at 10 of the clock,” says he.
And so EE and I hit the road to Eynesbury in some brilliant sunshine. When Chris organises a day, well, he organises the weather too.
By start time, about half a dozen locals, and Geraldine from Werribee Wagtails – Now BirdLife Werribee, turned up. Chris really wants to make it an opportunity for the local residents to enjoy the forest around their village.
Eynesbury is built around a golf course (well not really, but on the other hand, really). Another golfing friend, took a trip out there one day, saw the greens, and the area, and was back the following day to sign up for a villa. Nothing like a game of golf that starts from your front step.
Surrounding the man-made, is the indomitable Grey Box. This is one of the largest stand of Grey Box left in Victoria. Something the locals are particularly proud of, and with every right.
We set off along the track that leads around the ornamental lake. Lake being a somewhat strange term at the moment as the dry weather has reduced it to a series of water holes. And a home now for a number of Black-fronted Dotterels, among the usual ducks and other waders. The cormorant families have had to move on.
A trip around the lake led us off into the wilds of suburbia as we walked along a track between the forest and the residences. Many little bush birds, particularly Superb Fairy-wrens along here. It seemed that there was about one Fairy-wren clan to every front yard.
Across a dry creek and into the forest proper and the call of Brown Treecreepers announced our presence. Then a Jacky Winter couple, and the familiar call of Diamond Firetails, but search as we might we didn’t spot them today.
A bit of ramble through the thickets between the Grey Box and we were nearing the end of our morning. When a call of an Crested Shrike-tit echoed across the open area. After quite a bit of searching, I’d concluded we’d missed it, and a cuppa beckoned.
Not so Christo. With stoic patience he continued, and a “Here it is!” was really a grand statement of his birding skills. The group hurried to see. And not only one, but two and working very close to the track and unperturbed by our presence.
The photographers were in for a treat and we were shown the skills needed to both track down and extract grubs from the most unlikely places among the bark.
And all too soon we were back in the carpark, and farewelling the lovely area.
One of the highlights of Woodlands Historic Park is a stand of Grey Box Forest that is on a ridge running from Gellibrand Hill. Probably, once in older times the Grey Box was a predominate stand in the area. The Grey Box on the ridge line has survived, again, probably because the area would be difficult to cultivate.
Running along the ridge is pipeline for the nearby airport so I’ve named the ridge. Pipeline Ridge. Over the years, the open forest has provided a grand home, and a fine stop over point for Red-capped, Scarlet and Flame Robins. One season I came into a clearing on Ridge and there among the great Grey Box was at least 70 robins at work on the moss-beds in the clearing.
I love Grey Box Forest. I’ve said it before, but I think I have Grey Box sap in my veins.
These wonderful trees are survivors. No heavy rainfall areas for them. A low rain fall, and a gritty stony shallow earth, and they are at home. And so one of the great things I love about Grey Box is their perseverance and their steadfastness and their survival against the odds.
The average Grey Box is quite slow-growing, it earns it durable title over many long years.
It makes a tall upright and generally “Y” shaped spread. In fact up on Pipeline is an old downed warrior that I’ve used as a sit spot, and I first called it the “Y Tree” before I realised that was the general shape of Grey Box.
The bark is a grey (funny about that), fine and flaky. Thinner branches are smooth.
As it grows it develops, as do many eucalypts holes that become home or nesting locations for a variety of birds. The forest area also developes a finer understory, that can be very open, as it is on Pipeline or quite dense as in a few locations in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.
The cool understory make fine homes for both Black Swamp Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos. When I was a little bloke the Kangaroos were called Forrester. Which I figured was a typographical mistake and what was meant was Forest. And so for a long time in my youth the were “Forest Kangaroos”. Ahhh!!!
When the bandicoot program was established at Woodlands a few years back the Predator-free fence was put in place and cut the territory of the only Black Swamp wallabies in half. I’ve often wondered how the ones that ended up on the outside of the fence fared against the foxes and feral dogs in the area. I’ve no idea either how many were cut off on the inside, and try as I might I’ve only been able to locate two that I can recognise. There might well be more, as one pair of eyes can only see so much.
Understory in our wonderful Grey Box includes a lot of layover space for the Eastern Greys, and they do a fine job of keeping some areas quite scrub free, and at the same time contribute a fair amount of droppings.
I have a theory, and no budget to prove it, that the composting of the droppings and leave litter promotes the growth of a small saltbush type plant that has a bright red tiny berry. I theorise that the tiny berry is food for some insects that the Robins consume and thus collect carotene.
The red of the Robins comes from a class of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and are acquired by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant.
For several years at the beginning of the bandicoot project in the Back Paddock at Woodlands, the Kangaroos were removed. (They eat grass, that is the home of the endangered bandicoots. No grass, no home, no bandicoots).
But the number of layover areas, and the resultant saltbush deteriorated over the next few years, and the Robin numbers that we saw decreased. And at the moment, I believe, (well I’m allowed a theory or two), that as the plant and the carotene insects diminished, so did the resident Red-capped Robins. And the Flame and Scarlet Robins moved on to other areas for winter — some not too far as there a seriously large mobs of the Forresters down along the Moonee Ponds Creek outside the predator-fence.
But the average Eastern Grey Kangaroo female is a pretty persistent little producer, and her male companions are also very capable at their jobs and between them there has been a growing population of Kangaroos in the Feral-free area. Which means perhaps the old layover areas may get a rebirth too.
Endurance is a work that springs to mind when you stand under a majestic and venerable Grey Box. Its branches wide-spread and supporting a varied habitat around it.
My Tai Chi master says” Endurance, glasshooper, is not in context of a temporarily demanding activity. Another facet of endurance is that of persevering over an extended period of time. Patiently persisting as long as it takes to reach the goal.
Patiently enduring the Grey Box forest welcomes our admiration.
I love Grey Box. It has so much to share, and it has so much to teach.
Thought I’d share some of the wonder of the forest over the years. All images made on or near Pipeline Ridge
Somethings we do as photographers, and bird photographers in particular, seems to rival climbing Mt Everest.
One of those challenges for me is the Rufous Fantail.
Now those who have these amazing birds in their backyard are going to find the next bit of ramble, well somewhat indifferent, if not bordering on the laughable.
But. The Rufous Fantail is not a regular, nor a resident bird in my area. In fact over 8 or more years at Woodlands Historic Park, I’ve only seen them on three separate seasons. And then only for a few days, as they either fly South, for their summer location or then North for their Winter escape. And off course I have to be in the forest when they are there, and as there is no prior warning, and no set pattern of location, climbing Everest seems to be a fair comparison.
“It’s a lovely sunny day. Let’s go visit Ambrose,” said she. So EE and I headed up the freeway, parked and then walked in to the area where this amiable bird has been the past few seasons.
Long term reader(s) may recall that last season the area had been cleaned up by the local LandCare(?) group and I was a bit unsure if Ambrose would bother. And after about an hour or so of fruitless searching I was well on the way to convinced. Then, way off on a corner area of the paddock, a familiar little harmonica call echoed, and I went to look.
And there he was.
Waved a wing at me— in Hello— and was gone. More waiting and a fine cuppa of Earl of Grey, and he made one more quick appearance, but didn’t seem to be photographically inclined today. But at least we’d made contact.
“How about lunch at Greenvale, and then we can go on to Woodlands Park in the afternoon,” says She. EE is pretty good on those ideas. So we went.
Woodlands, as the long long term reader will (or at least might) recall is the birthplace of my bird photography. I am convinced that Grey Box sap runs in my veins and in a few minutes of walking down the the old “Dog Track”, I was feeling a weight lifting.
I like Grey Box Forest.:
No TV commercials with people who have to “YELL” to get my attention.
No loud music with people who have to “YELL” to sing a song.
No Dodgey commercials that “YELL” at me to buy some piece of useless rubbish or other.
No Lines at the Supermarket
No pushing and shoving to get a coffee
No futile endless running about chasing something of no particular value.
I like Grey Box Forest.
We found some Flame Robins down by the old dam area, and to our mutual surprise a Pink Robin female.
I was photographing some ‘log-dancing’ between two territorial Red-capped Robin males, when a ginger/gold/rufous/orange flash quite literally sped by my ear.
A Rufous Fantial. First one I’d seen in years. Move over Sir Edmund Hilary, and Chris Bonington. This is serious business.
The Rufous, as pointed out at the beginning is a very infrequent visitor. It also has the most beautiful orange tail. A photo of that is like planting a flag on Mt Everest. One of the most gorgeous examples of it was taken may years ago by an expert bushman. (he has also featured here before)
Alan (Curley) Hartup made a wonderful shot with a beaten up Mamyia C22 and a roll of filum. Yes, filum. It was exhibited and won Curley many well deserved awards and accolades. Look back and you’ll find a the shot featured on the Hartup Exhibtion flyer and for more on Curley see here.
One thing I learned about photographing this bird. It is fast. So fast in fact that it makes the average Grey Fantail seem glacial. And your average Grey Fantail is no slacker in either the speed or irrational flying behaviour departments.
“Perhaps, I should practice more on Grey Fantails,’ says EE. “N0,” says I kindly, and wisely. “The Grey Fantail isn’t in the same speed league.
So we followed the bird, and eventually managed a few close shots.
I struggled to get to the peak. Just couldn’t get the flag in.
Jon Young says, “There is nothing random about bird’s awareness and behaviour. They have too much at stake…. Being tuned into the tapestry…. we are venturing into a realm of awareness, and intention and curiosity. I’ve had some magical experiences in the natural world, and some of them have involved birds.”
He quotes a San Bushman, “One day I see a small bird and recognise it. A thin thread will form between me and the bird. I will go again tomorrow and recognise it and the thread will thicken. Eveytime I see and recognise the bird, the thread strengthens. It will eventually grow to become a rope. That is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes to all aspects of the creation this way.”
Appreciation of the bird’s perspective.
Which puts us in the vehicle, heading along the 29 Mile Road at Avalon, in the early morning sunshine. EE, Mr An Onymous and I. And as we draw nearer to the end of the road, a thought from us all, was, “Will Orion still be here?”
We need not have worried.
Sitting on a small tree, about 10m off the side of the road. And by the look, having just eaten. Feathers still wet with the dew from the grass of his last capture.
At first we stop the car on the far side of the road, and they photograph through the open window.
Orion turns his head, takes note, and then develops, ‘Soft eyes’. Jon talks to this a lot, and I’ve mentioned it here before, but its the type of eyes that look right past you, with complete confidence. I stepped from the car, I’m on the far side remember, and approached from the sunside, and moved across the road. ‘Soft eyes’ followed me. Because of the line of the branch, his stance, and the way the light is running in the early morning, I want to be about 10m further out in the open. And of course the chance is he will spook and fly.
I make the first few shots. Orion sinks down onto the branch, and I take that as an invitation. Purposefully, rather than creeping up slowly, (that only spooks birds the worst), I move to the open area. Now, the backdrop is not right, so I need another 4 or 5 metres. He throws his head back and begins to hawk-up the fur ball from the last meal. I move. Soft eyes follow.
Because of the lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to isolate him against the backdrop without a horizon line running somewhere. I could go lower, but then it would be blue sky. Nice, but not encompassing. Besides crouching down human with long lens is going to turn those soft eyes to ones of determined study. So I opt for another step or two to put his head against the far distant tree line. That will have to do.
Orion settles to preen.
EE and Mr A take all this as a sign of relaxation and they also move off the roadway for the better angle and the light. Orion soft eyes. We’re cool.
In the end, we’ve enough for a game of cards, the three of us and Orion.
Preening, wingstretches, repositioning on the branch. And all the time he seems completely settled.
After an hour of standing in the fine sunshine, carrying a long lens, and working with a bird that seems to have no fear of us, a great deal of understanding, awareness and connection emerges.
The others move back to the car. I bid this able bird ‘good morning’ and follow them back. Soft eyes follow me.
And just before you think I’ve run out of stuff to write about and am uploading a few older images.
These are from a visit this afternoon. I’ve been laid up at home in bed with the flu for most of the week. And EE decided that it was such a nice sunny afternoon, that I’d be allowed out for a bit of ‘fresh air’.
So down to 29 Mile we went. And there was mr casual, Orion, sitting on the usual post eating a usual mouse. Well obviously not the same mouse as before, but you get the idea.
Interestingly enough there was quite a track made through the long grass and marsh weed, by photographers tracking in and out over the weekend. EE says, if she’d have known it might have been a good place to sell hot scones and tea!
Orion seemed all the more oblivious to it all, and went through an entire preening and resting program with two photographers at arms length —so to speak. Well not quite, but in its relaxed way we enjoyed vicariously its company.
Here is a small sample of the afternoon. And yes, I do feel better from the fresh air.
Not sure how you’re Greek mythology is, but Orion was a hunter who was going to kill all the wildlife. A bit miffed with his hubris, the gods took umbrage— they seeemed to do that a lot, over the least, and perhaps even looked for opportunities to be offended, but I digress.
In the end of the myth, well he gets bitten by a clever snake, and is consigned to turn for ever in the heavens, he at one end, and the snake at the other. When one lot of star pattern is visible at night, the other is below the horizon. One sets as the other rises. All very mystical.
There is a lot of the life/death, rebirth and restitution in the entire story, but that is probably enough for most average bird photographers to take in at one sitting.
After several sessions with the Black-shouldered Kite down on the 29 Mile Road, it dawned on me that Orion, the mighty hunter, would be a good, well, unisex name for our hero(ine).
So we went down to see Orion, discuss the matter with him/her, and see what he/she thought.
Seemed to go pretty well, and just to confirm it all the bird dropped off the post, flew a few wingflaps, hovered, dived and returned with a mouse. One can almost here Mt Olympus turning.
Addendum: Just to be very clear. These birds are not baited, called in, or in anyway interfered with. We are simply recording the activities of a very relaxed and completely confident bird. We strive for connection and if a bird exhibits any ‘stress’, we leave it in peace. No photo is worth stressing the bird. Now you know!
No. I haven’t fallen off the planet. But my photo database had developed a slight case of computer measels and its taken me the best part of the last couple of weeks to manage it back to life.
It all started…. but, let’s not go there.
Still been making photos but.
Here is a sequence from a morning with a Black-shouldered Kite hunting alongside the roadway. For those who can navigate around the Western Treatment Plant this one is working along 29 Mile Road.
Interesting time at the WTP, the waders are all feeding and colouring up for their journey north to Siberia. And all the nesting birds are now in winter preparation.
Which means the Black-shouldered Kites among others have come down to keep the mouse population from exploding to epic proportions. And if this bird is anything to go by, then the mice are well and truly under control.
I’ve heard it said that on average the success rate for a hunting bird is one strike in about 10-15 attempts. This bird (I haven’t named it yet), obviously never read the fine print, and in the hour or so we shared, it hunted 4 times and took 3 mice.
It also seems quite content around us mere humans and has allowed both close approaches, and has made its own close approaches. Add to that some fine sunshine, a small breeze to give it some lift and what better way to while away a few hours in the morning.