Interludes: Wings Out

We stopped briefly this morning at the Black-shouldered Kite nest in a pine on a now disused piece of road.

The last few times we’ve visited it was apparent that the young birds were getting close to fledging, however as it turns out we were pretty much completely wrong.

When we arrived they were already sitting high up on the tree and one moved from one branch to another with a skill of a seasoned flyer.
And not long after two of them took to the air and circled about the paddock around the tree, eventually returned and settled in.
A third one came by just as we were leaving so it must have been resting in a tree further down the road.

On return the young kite had to run the gauntlet with an enraged Australian Magpie. Unfortunately it happened all so fast and so close in that we didn’t get much of a result, and to it credit the young kite was easily able to avoid the attack. Which further shows they have been airborne a few days at least.

The female turned up and spent quite a bit of time ‘tail flicking’, which I’ve always taken as either a pair-bonding  or a territory maintenance movement. Given a second pair of Kites have a nest somewhere further down the main road, it might be safe to assume she was giving warning that her young were out and about and not to be messed with.

Here are a few from the excursions around the nest.

 

 

Young Kite defending against the Magpie attack. The feathers might look out of control, but I suspect it has set up the feathers to give it both control and the ability to avoid the magpie. A good indication they have been out for a few days.

Saturday Evening Post #157 : Roll up, Roll up, the Circus is in Town

We have finally been able to break out of our 5km border restrictions.
Not big mind you, we only needed about 7km to get to The Office.
Along the River Park walking track the bush is alive, as they say to the sounds of parrots, lorikeets and smaller bush birds, including Wagtails, all busy either defending a nesting location or challenging for better accommodation.

None, it seems, more so, than the large number of Rainbow Lorikeets that have descended on the park area.  Over the years their numbers have grown to what can only be plague proportions.  Each hollow in every tree seems to be a Rainbow chosen location, much of course to the chagrin and detriment of the smaller birds that simply can’t compete with the noisy, brash and boisterous Rainbows.

But they do have some advantages for the photographer, besides their brilliant colour scheme.

As EE commented as we walked down the track with the calls of the Rainbows ringing through the trees, “They are  bit like a single bird circus, each one has its own act.” Perhaps its partly bravado, partly the need to show-off to their peers and partly to intimidate other species.  But there is no doubt that a pair can provide hours of entertainment, as they talk, preen and dance together.

We were a bit late for the opening of this bird’s performance.
Two options I think:

It had been holding on to the bark on the branch and it had given way under the weight and it had desperately grasped the bark above with its beak,

or

It was using the bark and the balancing act to impress its mate.

Either way, as it waved the bark about with its foot, was it trying to gain balance or simply attention.

Easily able to support its weight by the beak, it didn’t seem to be in any hurry to recover and rolled around for quite a long time.  In the end, dropping the bark, it did a ‘chin up’ grasped the bark near its beak with first one, then both legs and swung up onto the branch.

Hard to say, but the crowd threw popcorn and cheered at the performance. 🙂

You can tell we’ve been locked up too long when such simple things form such great amusement.

Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 


Interludes: Let’s Be Careful Out There

The title is a quote from a tv show of the 1980s.

The Duty Sergeant would remind his team as they left the daily briefing, ‘Let’s be Careful Out There.”

In these days of rampant pandemic it still seems like good advice.

However being careful out there applies to some birds as much as it did to the police in “Hill Street Blues

Longer term readers may recall that two years ago we spent quite a bit of time with a Brown Falcon pair as they nested.  Cassia, of Cinnamon, provided us with some excellent insight into the nesting and feeding habits of their lives.
Unfortunately we were unable to follow up with them last season due to travel restrictions.

However with a change in limitations we have now been able to revisit the park, and after a couple of futile attempts,  EE pulled the proverbial Brown Falcon Nest out of a Hat.
He had been hunting close into the nest in the open paddocks and seemed to be having some success, however we missed the food exchanges and were unable to determine a possible nest site.
It was not only us that were taking an interest in the falcon’s presence.  Australian Magpies took them as ‘easy’ targets and each time one of the birds flew, a flotilla of maggies were in hot pursuit.
Mostly the magpies are fast enough, and the falcons don’t put in that much effort to get away, but today it was quite obvious that the falcons were not going to broach harassment, and each time the magpies drew in close, the falcons put effort into the wing strokes and powered away. Not something I usually see.

Cassia does indeed, Need to be Careful Out There.

Here is a small selection of the morning’s activity.

This is the male, he is lighter in colour. He is doing his best to hover over the grasses
Action TIme. A quick drop on to some prey below
Mouse delivery. Unlike Black-shouldered Kites, he carries the prey in his beak.
The male: Time for a scratch on the wing.
Sitting waiting for an opportunity to pounce. His yellow cere and eye ring are noticeable id markings. HANZAB notes that yellow cere may be a sign of age and is more prevalent in males. This bird might be at least 15 years old as we’ve seen him over a number of seasons.
Heading out for another catch
This is Cassia, of Cinnamon and her nest with at least two young. They are only recently hatched, perhaps in the past few days.
The magpies decided that Cassia was not going to sit quietly anywhere in their territory.
Maggie closing in.
She is well aware of the challenge, and is about to power away.
This is the first time I’ve seen a falcon put in the effort to evade the charging magpies. I think she has the better of them in a vertical climb
Stretching out. The magpies might have the advantage on a downhill run or across a level field, but in this case she just lifted up faster than the magpie could manage.
The male avoiding two enraged Little Ravens

Saturday Evening Post #156: A Jewel

I’ve often commented on Flickr and Facebook and other online groups, and of course here on the blog that I consider the Australian Hobby to be our most beautifully marked raptor.

It’s steel-blue-grey wing and back contrasts with the rich  chest and underwing colours and the light and dark underwing patterns all make for an impressive show.

David Hollands writes, in “Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia“, in his chapter on Australian Hobby

If there is a jewel among Australian hawks,  it is the hobby. Smaller than the Peregrine, it  is lithe and slim and incredibly fast. At rest, sleek and polished with a silhouette that tapers rapidly from its slim shoulders, it has the look of pent-up brilliance waiting only for the trigger to transform potential into action. In flight the promise becomes reality, it seems hardly to have left its perch before it is travelling at dazzling speed. The wings are long, narrow and swept back in a sickle-shaped curve that is particularly noticeable when gliding. … Of all the falcons I know it is the most graceful and there are few more exhilarating sights than one that is stooping, wings curved back, eyes fixed on its target: everything taut and totally controlled:wavering not one fraction from its course and travelling at remarkable speeds for its size. (p.156)

Somehow I suspect that most of us never get to see the bird at much more than a distance, or at high-speed in a high wind, or perhaps sitting on a open perch or fence post.

But to appreciate this bold little bird requires a lot of time working with just one bird or pair, and due to their rather nomadic and social isolation, it is not often we get the chance.
I have featured a pair at nest at the Werribee River Park precinct a couple of years now on the Flickr and here on the blog.  We have had at least three previous seasons with them, and were highly anticipating getting out of our 5 km bubble to see if they had returned for another year.
And.
They have!

We have the good fortune of being only a 15 minute and 5 minute walk from their nesting area.   So it’s possible to arrive early and watch the comings and goings of both the tiercel (male) and falcon (female) and learn a little about their ability in the air.

The nest is being reused and is high in a sugargum, the multi-branching of the tree has produced substantial eight to ten branches that form a ‘cup’ and the previous owners had filled it with sticks, and as Hobbies don’t build but rather reuse, its probable that they have not refurbished the nest since its last use.

The nearby Werribee River run between some quite steep, and high sand ‘cliffs’ and Fairy Martins and Welcome Swallows among others use the area over the water to hunt for food.  It makes an easy food source for the tiercel, he sits on a branch overlooking the water, and when opportunity presents itself, with barely a feather flick he is airborne off the branch down into the river area and because the cliffs on either side give the target little hope of avoidance, is usually back up out the other side of the river in his first swoop. If he misses, I’ve not seen it happen yet.
Which brings me to another point that David points out about it travelling at both incredible speed and with unwavering trajectory.
It is hard to put to words, but on return he flies far out and then on a perfectly designed and executed arc, circles back to land without making any adjustment to his travel that I can detect. It is like a beautiful Tai Chi move.  Smooth, controlled and effortless. (In Tai Chi, the term, “Sung” would be appropriate)
At first I thought it was just a one off, but each time he came in it was pretty much a carbon-copy of previous returns.
The falcon does the same thing when she leaves the nest and returns. It’s a long arc at speed, and just as she approaches the nest, she throttles back and lands though the tree branches as light as a feather.

It’s early days in the cycle at the moment as they are still mating, but not doubt she is sitting on some eggs as he is quite the busy provider.

It is worth contemplating that over the next two months, he will bring in daily about 12-15 kills. Mostly small birds, from Martins, Swallows, Sparrows, Honeyeaters and the like.  Not so much Mynahs and Starlings. (Although they are quite plentiful). That will be somewhere around 700 dinner invitations that the invitees can’t refuse.

This shot is the tiercel, he has just passed over the food supply to the falcon and is going to take a quick rest in a tree opposite until she has eaten and is ready to return to the nest.

Covid Lockdown Restrictions not withstanding there will be more to see of this pair and their progress with the clutch.

Interludes: A Sky full of Kites

With a touch of sunshine, and a free morning, EE and I decided it was time to followup on a lead we’d been given about the possibility of a Little Eagle’s nest along the Werribee River.
Now it was hardly an expedition that would rival Bourke and Wills, or even the great Major Thomas Mitchell.  It was more likely the ‘expotition’ of Winnie the Pooh in search for the North Pole.

Still any day out with good weather, good company and a flask of the good Earl’s finest, was looking better than another locked down day in our four walls.

We set off to find that the access gate we were hoping to use was locked, and as Arlo Guthie sings, “With a big chain, and a lock and a sign saying “Closed for Covid”.”  (Alice’s Restaurant)

So off to plan B. Not sure Bourke and Wills and certainly not Pooh Bear, ever had a plan B.

We parked and walked in. Well it was a sunny day.
And just as well, for to be honest.  If there was a Little Eagle’s nest along the roadway I missed it. And if EE missed it, well, it wasn’t there.  If it had been in Argentina, she would have spotted it anyway.  It is a 6th Sense, or at least borders on some kind of extra-sensory perception.

However as we walked the track, what came to visit us was several squadrons of Black and Whistling Kites.  First just a few but as quickly as we could count the numbers grew to about twenty five birds filling the sky.
Among some of the interest was a Black Kite that had a rabbit carcass tucked up, and was not giving it up for any of its ‘friends’.
And a bit of an aerial duel between some Black and Whistling Kites.
Next several Ravens decided that having so many free-loaders in their nesting area was not going to happen and another battle ensued.

A good day out for with some bonus Australian Hobby secrets discovered as well, but that is certainly for another post.
Enjoy.

Saturday Evening Post #155: Shadow Opportunity

Deng Ming-Dao writes,” Times of oppression and adversity cannot last forever. In the midst of great difficulty, a tiny opportunity will open—if only by chance.
You must be sharp enough to discern it, quick enough to catch it, and determined enough to do something with it.  Stick to it like a Shadow.”

“It is like a bird. If you try to catch it, you will miss. If you are always with it, moving at its speed, as much a part of it as its own shadow, then it is easy to seize.”

We have, tis fair to say, had our fill of lockdownitis. One of several pairs of Black-shouldered Kites that we’ve worked with over the years has flown several clutches of young while we’ve been at home with our four walls.

The sad thing is that the 5km limit we  have been forced to work to, just gets us to the turn-off to the road where the Kites territory begins. So it was possible to drive, and park, and like a kid looking in a lollyshop window droll on the glass.

But. Not able to get close enough to see what was going on.

The road runs off a major access road, so parking on the side, (within our limit) is fraught with its own challenges.  Myriad passing traffic, difficulty of parking on the side of the road, not to mention, standing about with a long camera lens  is likely to bring the wrath of some ‘public concerned individual” as to why we would be doing such a thing. And of course the inevitable visit from the long arm of the law.
So, we stayed away.
This particular pair, and really its the female, as we are pretty certain she has had two male companions over the past couple of years, have done their bit to keep the Kite species alive and well supplied.
Working backward, with the few clutches we had photographed without interruption and the number of clutches that were started and then we lost track of, or had begun and we came back on the end of the season with the young well and truly on the wing, we think in the past 3 years, they have had somewhere around 8 clutches.  Maybe 9.  On average she brings out 3 young, so given one known clutch failure, and one that only produced two young, it would be fair to say they have flown around 25 young birds.

Now we have a little more travel space, EE and I ventured out, among other places to see what the kites were doing, (If anything)   Parking well off the mainroad and scanning about, eventually we found one of the pair sitting high on a tree.  Not long after the female emerged from the top of a tree, and with much sqarrking encouraged the male to go hunting.
Bingo.  They have a nest.
That would be perhaps number 10 so far.  She is a bit of a workaholic.

Shadow time!  Hopefully the next few weeks will give us a chance to follow the progress.

The weather wasn’t all that kind, but here she is coming in with a fresh prize to prepare for the young, which must only be hatched for a week or so.

And just in case you’ve not seen a link before
The Peregrine Falcons high up on 367 Collins Street in Melbourne have hatched a clutch of three.
Here is a link to their video feed.

https://367collins.mirvac.com/workplace/building-overview/falcons-at-367-collins

Enjoy.