Little Journeys: Meet Spot the Harrier

It has to be said.  They are indeed magnificent creatures.
Totally efficient at what they do, and with an sense of total air control.
We had the good fortune to find one out on near the RAAF Base at Point Cook just recently.

“There,” she cried. And across the paddock in the distance, the familiar wafting flight of a Spotted Harrier rose and fell as it diligently seached the paddock. Anything of interest was re-examined by a turn of the great tail and a flap or two of the wide wings to bring the bird into the best position.

We waited.

Can’t do much more than that with these birds. One of the field guides describes their action as “Languid”.  And it’s safe to bet they are not in a hurry to carry out their meticulous work.

I’m not sure what fascinates me most about them. The wonderful body patterning, or the wing patterns that look like spiderweb, or the stern, but interesting facial mask, or perhaps it’s simply the ease at which they maintain station over the field. We don’t see them often, but the few times we do are alway memorable.

Slowly Spot made its way across the paddock. Would it come close enough, or shy away. They are another bird that I think has the area mapped in great detail. Anything out of the ordinary is either possibly food, or it to be avoided.  Dudes waving cameras about fit in the the latter catergory.

So we stood, nailed to the spot, and waited for Spot.

Must have been a slow food day, but eventually those awesome wings carried the bird in our direction. It sailed along the fenceline on the other side of the road, and… was gone.

Enjoy.

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Saturday Evening Post #45: Risk Assessment

I saw a warning sign on the tool chest in the back of an RACV Roadside vehicle the other day.

Warning before beginning work have you made a Risk Assessment.

Good advice I thought for someone working on car repairs on the side of the road with cars, buses and trucks speeding by, each driver totally self-obsessed in their own world of radio, wifi, facebook and family troubles.

Good advice, I thought too for your average photographer at work on the beach. 🙂

We had spent the morning, in the sunshine—let it be said, around Point Cook. We had arrived at low tide, and around this area the tide recedes in some places out as much as 100 m or more exposing lots of interesting little rock pools and seagrass beds and rocks that mark the edge of the shallows.

Normally terns, cormorants and gulls are the usual suspects.  And occassionally when the wind is right, strong winds coming inshore, Australasian Gannets that patrol up and down, just out of camera reach.
However on this day, with a strong off-shore wind, the gannets were working along the area just out beyond the farthest exposed rocks. I don’t know for sure, but hazard a guess they were going down to around the Werribee River mouth, turning north and the gliding past us, about midway to their turn around somewhere near Altona, at the Kororoit Creek outlet or Jawbone Park.  Just a guess.  About a 15 min and 10 min turn around time.

So after watching several passes and buckling on the TC1.4 Televerter for a bit of extra gain, I pondered, I could walk along the dry sand/mud, step on a few stones and be close to the action.

That would work.

So I set out. Ever alert as a big wave might squash my plans, or perhaps the tide would turn and maroon me out on the dwindling dry ground around the rocks.
As I stepped over one puddle to another, it was apparent that the tide was indeed turning, as the little riverlets of water were heading in to fill the pools near the beach.  Risk Assessment time.

I ventured on to the far rocks and waited 10 minutes and of course the gannets didn’t turn up on time. Look behind me, ok, dry land all the way. Wait.
10 more minutes and the first gannets begin patrolling down toward me. Still a bit too far out for great results.  They disappear up the bay. Wait.

15 minutes later, and a look behind indicates that I’m running out of time. And the birds appear.  Remember that TC? Well at 700mm focal length, the closest bird overwhelmed the frame.  Quickly take off TC, balance on rock, hope not to drop expensive optical devices on the rock or worse into the salt water. Risk Assessment zero!

Another 10 minutes and the birds are patrolling again. Not as close as the first pass, but I’m running out of options.
Look behind. Water is beginning to fill in some of the lower pools and its all a few minutes from joining together and wet feet slog home.  Risk Assessment.
Retire now to survive for another day.

Australasian Gannets are interesting in Port Philip Bay.  They roost on several of the navigational structures around the bay and on a man-made island called, “Pope’s Eye” near Queenscliffe.
Some reseach, indicates that the birds that fly up and down the coast line on the western side are primarily males.  In other areas it’s pretty much a 60% female, 40% male mix.

I also discovered the link to a web cam on Pope’s Eye.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in a gannet colony, and you wanted to avoid getting wet, travelling to Portland, and the smell, then this is well worth the few minutes to view. Solar powered it only functions in good weather.
It cycles a pre-recording if the live feed is off.  Bet you can’t wait for tomorrow.

Here it is.

 

And here is the quick Fly By.

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Moments: Rainy Days and Sundays

The Carpenters may have sung about Rainy days and Sundays, all those years ago, but the past couple of days have made a tremendous change on the countryside around us.

Many paddocks that were dry and barren, or had a blush of winter grass on them, are now shiny, polished lakes, with several cms of water covering the lower surrounding areas.

Not much fun for our favourite pastime, so EE and I have been a bit housebound of late.

It’s not so much the rain. I’ve been wet before and understand the process, in much the same way birds do.  You get wet, and then you dry out. No point in arguing with the obvious. As my long ago bushwalking leader used to  say, “If you want to stay dry, STAY home.”

It’s the wind.  Hurts the eyes, makes the cold colder, drives the rain through the best wet weather gear and is just plain uncomfortable to stand around in peering through a wobbling viewfinder.  Not to mention the(lack of) wisdom of taking expensive camera gear out in those conditions.
And don’t even think of hiding under trees in such weather.  The news has had to cover several unfortunate incidents regarding uprooted trees.
So better to stay at home, drink warm cacao in hot almond milk, and dream of better days.

But you can, as EE says, Only take so much indoors.  We looked at the weather, and as she has an arrangement with several pairs of birds at the moment, it was time to go see if the rain had washed out their hopes of an early clutch.
First casualty we found was a pair of Masked Lapwings that had taken up a nesting site on the lawn of a nearby shopping centre.  The sheen of water across the nest site, and lack of parents anywhere pretty much confirmed the worst for that pair.  Not that they’ll be setback.  She’ll be back as soon as the water recedes.

But all the birds with tree based nests were ok it seemed.  One small area of trees, that used to surround a small wetland is quite the maternity centre at the moment, and there are lots of anxious males sitting around wondering what to do.
Ravens, magpies, Pacific Black Ducks and Chestnut Teals, Black-shouldered Kites. A pair of White-faced Herons, although to give full disclosure, its hard to say they are actually sitting at this stage.

One of the more interesting sightings was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo pair.  They are giving a pair of Red Wattlebirds shivers. Lucked out trying to find the nest, (if its there yet), but the Cuckoos seemed to be relentless in the area, and the Wattlebirds were seriously aggressive, but really couldn’t see off the determined Cuckoos. Be interesting to see what happens.

Here is a visual diary of the morning out.

Australasian Pipit.
They nest in the grass. Apparently they will nest anytime season is conducive.
Proud Dad, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Another male, hoping to lead me away from his brood
With plenty of time on his hands—paddles, he is practicing his one legged stand
Another ‘busy’ Dad
One of a pair that were eager to appear as if they were feeding off the fence, but most likely they were watching a pair of very nervous Red Wattlebirds.
A Black-shouldered Kite, contemplating taking up diving lessons to find mice.

Saturday Evening Post: #44 Peace

The white dove occurs in the legends and stories of many cultures as a symbol of peace.

Over the past several weeks, a number of family, friends, acquaintances and their families have had to deal with a range of challenging circumstances.

Details aren’t necessary, but a moment to pause and reflect and to reach out is.

In times of emotional or physical hardship, it’s easy to feel hopeless so for all people who are struggling with life-altering challenge.

 

May healing and peace come on swift wings.

Saturday Evening Post #43: Don’t Look Away

We had located a bird, not a ‘lifer’, but one that we see so infrequently.

Problem number one, was, it was ensconced in a old dead bush. Probably a melaleuca or a prickly wattle.  And there the bird was, happy in its quite secure ‘fortress’.

Take a shot or two, just for the record. Walk about a bit, nope, no clear shot that side either.
Bird flys.

Hey, it’s out in the open with a rolling hill behind for a soft backdrop.  Hmmm bird photography is so easy.  Approach, secure a nice frame. Now to wait for a lift off for wing details.
The light goes. Deep clouds gather and the shutter speed drops. Deceivingly low.
Oh, of course the Vibration Reduction, (IS or VR), will take up the slack. But, that is never the case.

Maybe crank up the ISO. Well there goes the feather detail.
So I wait, slowing shutter speed, dwindling light, and hoping the bird will fly.  Watching.  Watching.
Watching.

Light goes to porridge. Shutter speed splutters to a slow crawl.

Time to make some adjustments.
And.

As I pulled the camera down to :
(A) Reset the ISO up a stop,
and
(B) bring the shutter speed up a half stop.

The bird, without warning dropped of the perch and to the frantic warning cries of honeyeaters and thornbills took off along the treeline.

I’d not even rotated the dial yet.

I’ve quoted Ming Thein before, but just in case you missed it.

From Ming Thein

“If you are waiting for something to happen to get a shot, you must be hyper vigilant at all times until you can no longer stand it or have your concentration broken for you: because the minute you turn away, decide to take a pee, sneeze, or pack up for the day…what you’ve been waiting for will happen”

Wise words Ming.

There is so much to be said for having confidence in the camera and the setting I’m using.  Not needing to think, “Oh, I’ll try this or that, or perhaps do this.” I rarely chimp, most I’ll do is check that the exposure is close to where I want it.  If its a touch on the light side when I glance at the LCD then I’m happy.  Any changes are what the sliders in the photo app are for.

For the same reason, I don’t use auto ISO. I just can’t predict where the shutter speed will go.  (Aperture is always the one variable I don’t vary)

Yet, I got in the mail the other day another mail about another ‘Artificial Intelligence” (AI) software that will turn my images into
“Stunning views of your subject”.  Yep, I was stunned.

Can’t imagine how AI is going to be there at just the right moment when the bird unfurls the sails and floats away.

I waited for this Black-shouldered Kite.  No changes of settings.
Just waited.
And eventually, it looked, and lifted off.
Who said Bird Photography was hard.

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From the EXIF 1/3200 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Yep, that’s what I’d have expected

Moments: Territiory and its Defence

We were at Eynesbury.  Looking, as usual for Flame Robins, and finding none, we had moved our endeavours to Jacky Winter.  Now Jacky is not in nesting mode at the moment, and range a bit wider across the forest it seems.  So we waited around some of the usual haunts.
I noted off on the far side of the open area, an old Grey Box, now a skeleton of its former self, and no doubt with some good nesting hollows hidden among its wide branches.

A lone Long-billed Corella has sat in the sunshine for quite a few minutes and just seemed to be enjoying the warmth.

When on a turn of fate a small group, mob, gang of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in full cry happened past.

For reasons, I can’t figure, one of them dropped down out of the flock and headed straight at the erstwhile Corella.  Who to its credit decided that being pushed from its perch was not going to happen without a struggle.

However in the end, the bigger bird won out and the Corella took to the air.

After a few proud crest flushes, and a loud calling session, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo departed to catch up with its mates.

Here is how it panned out.

 

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