Saturday Evening Post #171 : Hide and Seek

When I first became interested in photographing birds, and I knowingly told myself “How easy will this be!’, one of the first books I acquired was written by Australian doctor, David Hollands, titled, “Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia“.
My copy is getting somewhat dilapidated from use, but I learned several important lessons from that book.
The photos all would have been shot on ‘filum’, and no doubt most with manual focus lenses.  Or perhaps autofocus that was a precursor to the algorithms in our modern slick digital cameras.
The second thing was a very thorough field guide in the back that had great info on id of birds.
The third thing was the stories he wrote of encounters and searches for the raptors across Australia.
And, the fourth thing was the empathetic, glowing way that he described those encounters.  A style that I have tried, in a humble way, to emulate in the stories that roll of the press here in BirdsasPoetry.

David had released a new book.  Not an update or revision, but a new book. “Birds of Prey of Australia
My copy turned up this week.
Now this is not a book review nor an encouragement to rush out and buy the book, that is not what happens on my blog.

The new book has new photos, new stories and is quite different in size and weight to the previous book.  Infact it’s over 700 pages and would keep the average table quite secure if it was sitting on it and a hurricane tore through the house 😉

Some of the stories are quite interesting to me, as they tell of the same encounters with the same birds we have experienced.
He tells of an Osprey that visited for awhile out of its normal territory.  Many will recall Eloise who gave many a heart turn to those of us on the Werribee River about the same time
He also recounts the iteration of around 40 Black-shouldered Kites behind Avalon Airport a couple of years ago.  Photographing so many Kites in the mist is a memorable experience.
And finally his recent encounters with a family of Australian Hobbys as they grew up on a golfclub fairway.

There is also a full page of a Brown Falcon at WTP, and I’m pretty confident from the markings that I’ve featured that bird several times here and on Flickr.  Search here for “My Kitchen Rules

There is so much in his writing  that I pause and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen just that exact behaviour and wondered about it.” It’s like sitting having a fireside chat and being able to part of the discussion.

His website is: https://www.davidhollandsbirds.com.au
or Andrew Isles Books: https://www.andrewisles.com/pages/books/43127/david-hollands/david-hollands-birds-of-prey-of-australia

Here is the cover.

And a page spread of the Brahminy Kite a bird that I would dearly love to photograph.  I also turned over the dustjacket flap as there is a small shot of David sitting alongside an Osprey as it enjoys its meal.  Fascinating.

 

 


We went back for another morning with the young Collared Sparrowhawks.  We might have guessed that the previous few days flying about would come to an end.
It did.
Instead we found them among the pines in the carpark playing what can only be described as “Hide and Seek”.  No doubt I’ve got it wrong, but it seemed that the object of the exercise was two-fold.  One.  Learn to sit quietly and still in the tree so noone can see you, and Two. Learn to search through the trees to find a prey sitting quietly and still to be avoided.
Once discovered there were the usual screams of delight and defeat, both birds would fly out and about and resume the game.  I’ve no idea if they changed places from hunter to hunted.

Finding a Sparrowhawk sitting in a tree is an art that even EE baulks at.  So without that superwoman power, the rest of us are ‘outtaluck’.

I was searching for ten or fifteen minutes through the trees when the game change-over occurred and this bird dropped into the tree in front of me. I moved a few steps and was able to get a clear shot as it settled into its wait and see mode.
The softer light filtering through the tree enabled a great look at the three main features of distinguishing a Sparrowhawk from a Goshawk.
The ‘stare’ rather than ‘beetle-brow look’, the longer middle toe, and the square-tail.

The light also melded well over the form and shape to give the bird a real presence, even if it wanted to be inconspicuous.

Interludes: Bold and Beautiful

While many of us have been indulging in a self-imposed “Shadow Lockdown”, mother Collared Sparrowhawk has been busy increasing the Sparrowhawk population.

A few weeks back when we were at the height of working with Cassia, of Cinnamon’s three young Brown Falcons, we regularly  caught sight of a Sparrowhawk running food deliveries to its young.   Now about four weeks later, three young Sparrowhawks are out and about.

Mr An Onymous had given me a heads-up that they were out, as he visited the area a few days back.   We had other plans for the day, but it was such perfect beach weather that we abandoned them and headed out to see what we could find.  We left early morning to arrive in the cool of the day, and also figured that would be the most obvious feeding time.

The young were very much mobile and quite vocal.  So they are not yet much of a threat to the local birds. Although we did see them catching dragonflies from time to time.

Long term blog followers will know that I’ve been guilty of taking— as someone said, “great liberties with raptors”. (In my defence it is always when I’m invited by the bird), however to set the record straight,  Sparrowhawks and Goshawks are a different matter.  They are the birds that I am most wary of.  Several reasons.  1. They are quite bad-tempered.  2. They have quite short tolerance times. 3. They hunt by stealth and are silent in their approach. 4. They are stealth hunters and slip between trees and branches with an ease that can be a bit disconcerting to watch. 5.  They have long thin dangly bits hanging off the bottom which can be used with surgical precision to snatch at prey and anything they have taken a dislike to.

I’ve been harassed by a number of raptors over the years, mostly my fault, but these dudes turn it into a sustained attack.  Now mostly that has been because foolishly I’ve stumbled close into a nesting area, and so I don’t blame them, but I can take the warning, should it ever be given.  It’s not!

These young birds are different.  They are out for fun and games.  Serious no doubt, but they seem to enjoy it none-the-less.  They spent the morning chasing Wattlebirds, pigeons and Magpies, had altercations with Black-shouldered Kites and with no respect for elders even bailed up Cassia.

We also saw an adult come into feed.  Regrettably I followed the wrong bird in the viewfinder and missed the pass, but ever-reliable EE nailed it.  So we’ve included a shot from her friendsoftheair account.    When you have a choice of 4 birds all filling the sky, which one would you follow?? Oh well!

Enjoy

One leg lifted and feathers flared out has always been a warning sign for me.

Why are Sparrowhawks marked that way? So they can hide in plain sight in the trees. 🙂
Sliding past the “Southern Cross” windmill direction vane.
No respect. They bailed up poor Cassia, of Cinnamon as she went about her field work
Thanks to friendsintheair for supplying this shot of the adult dropping the prey for the young to snatch away. Too easy.

Saturday Evening Post #170 :Bedazzled

Been a bit quiet over at birdsaspoetry land this week.
Weather has been less than ideal: hot/cold/wet/windy.

Enough to make the average Doona Hermit snuggle up.

So I did a little internet browsing.  Had a chance to catch up with Thom Hogan’s site and his discussion on New Year’s resolutions, about planning Not To Switch Camera Brands.

Not that I’m brand switching, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into the “If I just had that one piece my photos would be so much better”.  I do admit to guilt on changing processing software however.  I’ve harddrives full of them.  Funnily enough, my photo work hasn’t improved using one or the other. Nor has my library ever become better organised or searchable.

Speaking of useful pieces of software, have you ever wanted—for a specific reason—to extract the JPEG from your raw camera files.
Yeah, I know just output a JPEG from the processing software. However Iliah Borg, he of the best raw viewer ever made, “FastRawViewer” has produced a little utility to extract the JPEG preview,  the one that you see on the back of the camera when you review.
Can’t say its a ‘must have’ piece.  However from time to time for a quickie result….  The size of the file will be dependant on camera settings but even with raw only set in camera the JPEG will be full size and with a moderate compression.

Have a look here. RawPreviewExtractor  In Beta and it’s Free.


There is something spine-tingling to stand up close to a raptor.

Many will have had the experience at a zoo, or a wildlife refugee or sanctuary.  A few lucky foks may have been able to have the bird perch on their forearm. To gaze into those eyes and ponder the amazing  intellect behind them is truly bedazzling.

But in the wild, it’s quite different.  The birds are, by nature, true social distancers.
I’ve mentioned on the blog about several times when I’ve had a very close contact with a raptor.  Not an aggressive flypast (I’ve had a few of those too!), but a bird that comes into my territory. One year I photographed a Kestrel (search for Jane Austin’s character Elizabeth here to see some of those times). She would land in the grass where I was laying and hunt around my feet.  Amazing to see the feathers move as she breathed.
One of her daughters, the following year, would come and sit on the fence post next to me while other people moved about.   Now next to me is not over there a bit, but we shared the same fencepost. Kinda like a dog at heel.
She would sweep out to hunt, and if a walker, or vehicle or bike rider came down the path, she’d swing around and land within touching distance till they had moved on.  Hard not to talk to such a bird, and the occasional head-cock might have meant something. Or not. 🙂

We’ve also had quite a number of close connections with Black-shouldered Kites, but hardly ever with Hobbys.
Until.

You might know that most mornings, I leave home very early around sunup and walk my local river park.  I have a small pondage with a flat area, that I make part of my morning Tai Chi routine.

This morning as I settled in, I heard, in the distance, the cries of hunting Hobbys. Sharp, short and piercing.  Looking about, I finally spotted two small fast moving shapes about 500-600m along the creek.  They both took off toward the local football oval, and I lost sight, so continued with my routine.
Then, as they say, out of now-where, one came wing flicking along the riverline. Looking no doubt for dragonflies, or perhaps something a bit more substantial.  After making a lap or two, it turned, and dropped right down on the reeds and headed in my direction.  I had by this stage paused and was enthralled at watching this awesome aviator.
Then it turned even tighter and made its way toward the end of my ‘special place pool’—which is not much bigger than a couple of car spaces.

It suddenly dawned on me as I stood frozen to the spot, that the bird would come over the reeds about knee-height and directly toward me.  Amazingly, and I suspect it was planned, it flicked ever-so lightly just a metre or so in front of me, and passed by my right knee with little more than a handbreadth between the bird and I.
It was easy to look down and see all the feathers raked-in as it ran fast by me. It even turned its head at the last moment to acknowledge I was there. The other thing worth noting was it was silent in the air. No “Whoosh” as it powered by.

I stood bedazzled watching it climb out of the reeds behind me and continue along the upper creekline.  Then. a few definite wing flicks and it was gone.

Of course the camera was home safely in the cupboard. (The weather gurus had predicted rain).
Still I hunted through the photobase, to see what I had the would help bring the moment to life for you dear reader.

Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Evening Post #169: Anthropomorphism?

Been watching a Doco series on SBS about Walt Disney.
It is quite indepth and covers a lot of history I only had a nodding feel for.  Was he a hero or a despot, well, let’s not go there now.
What it did show was that he needed to make some movies that could bring in some dollars to pay the wages. And of course furnish his lavish lifesstyle, but let’s not go there either.
It seems he hit on an idea while on holiday in Alaska and shot lots of 16mm footage of seals on “Seal Island”.  Once back in the studio they plotted out a cartoon style drama.
Need a hero, or two, a dark-moody antagonist or two, a desperate situation that would require said hero to confront said enemy, and stress and strain of the battle.
So they hunted though the material.  Located sequences of ‘Our Baby Seal’, its “mother” the nasty shark or gull, and then worked the shots into a sequence and of course wrote the voice-over to match.  “Oh, look here our helpless baby is trying to climb over a rock”.  “Here  is another one climbing down from a similar rock.”  Hero does good as the two disparate sequences were spliced together and eventually they had the story of “Will the Mother seal make it back in time with the food or will the baby become an orphan and be abandoned by the colony”. Cut to shots of abandoned baby seals.
And so it went.  Insert David Attenbro voice here.
For sequences they didn’t have, they sent out a crew to reshoot.
Once back in the studio, it was all cut together to match the written story line of Hero Triumphs over Odds. (You have to read Joseph Campbell to see how these stories play out in so many cultures:-  “The Hero of A Thousand Faces” is a good start).
Now of course the cynic in me has always been suspect of the said Attenbro ’stories’, but it seems he didn’t invent the genre: another success for Disney. 🙂 Or maybe someone earlier?

The Disney Studios made half a dozen of these ‘docos’ and made enough to cover the wages so all was good. So next time you hear the Bro expounding some heart-rending formula, about Elephants, Zebras, Polar Bears or Sea Lions, you’ll know where it came from. 🙂

One part of the doco also recounted the making of “Bambi” and how a whole generation of small kids were scarred by the tension and drama of that movie.
As one of those from the scarred (and scared) generation, I can recall being in a picture theatre somewhere as a very small kid, trying to hide under the portable wooden chairs in the hall.  So it came as no surprise to me many years later when I took my own young girls and their little friends to see “ET” that we left the theatre with a bunch of tear-stricken children.

Such is the power of the Theatre of the Mind.

I often tell stories here on the blog of various encounters we have.  Hopefully—as the Channel 9 news so ambitiously claims, “News does not have an Agenda!”—the stories here tend to portray what happens and doesn’t embellish the reality just for the sake of, as Campbell writes, “A multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land”.  (Hero of a Thousand Faces. p109 Fontana Press 1993)

This year we missed the Sacred Kingfishers nesting.  Such clever birds didn’t want to share with us a second year,  so here is one I prepared earlier.

Interludes: Main Course

There comes the day in every young Australian Hobby’s life that it must learn about serious hunting on the wing.
Grasshoppers and dragonflies are great food, but real protein is needed for them to grow.
Dad is not going to be there as a free Uber-delivery for ever.

And so we ventured out on a day when he was getting serious about the training program.
First step was to get them good and hungry.  So his regular callbys with quick top-ups, seized-up faster than tripod legs immersed in seawater.

When he did come by they had two new lessons to literally ‘grasp’.

The first was taking the prey from him as he did his best to remain stationary in the sky, holding the latest Fairy Martin.
Then after a few attempts at that he would let the Martin drop, and watch as the young bird followed it down and quickly managed to secure the meal.  He also invariably rolled over in a small stoop to pace the tumbling meal, just in case anything should go awry.  Needless to say on the attempts we saw, it was 100% score all round.

By the end of the morning, the young were now quite capable of chasing, if not catching the dwindling Fairy Martin fraternity.

At least one came back after a rocketship foray, and if there was a food exchange I missed it, but the young bird came in high and fast so I concluded that it was a successful strike.  (If not, no doubt by day’s end their score would have been gaining an impressive run total, just like the Australian Cricket team.)

I suspect this will be the last close quarter encounters with the young. No doubt they will be fed far less and make their own field trips and return with food.  All that will happen well beyond the tree line where we currently are working and then… Before we know it, the paddock will be bereft of the young.  The parents will move on to other territory and we’ll not see them regularly until next year.
Not sure who has learned the most, but we have certainly gained some interesting anecdotal insight into their growth and development.

Ready to for the next foray
Fast chasing games, would help them learn the necessary turns and forward thinking of a mobile prey.

Holding Pattern
Successful exchange, no crashing, or overshooting any more.
All secure and away
Lining up for a food drop.

Following the prey down just to be sure that all is ok. He outstrips the dropping carcass and can casually watch from below.
Coming in on fast wings from a great height with a meal.
I’m not sure, but I think this is self-caught. Those wings are raked back for speed.
My guess is this not only only fresh caught, but also self-caught.

 

Saturday Evening Post #168: Another Turn Around the Sun

Spilling over the horizon first thing in the morning, the sun makes its presence felt in the way that it send shadows scurrying, highlighting details and bringing tone and form to the previous dark shapes.

It also creates a variety of moods and colours as it marches its inevitable track to the other horizon, to then slip silently, but forcefully over the horizon and leave behind a soft mellow afterglow that drapes and melds over the landscape and our subjects.

Mid-morning to mid-afternoon provide sunlight that brings  qualities of contrast, detail, and colour.  On a cloudy day, the harsh shadows are suppressed bringing another mood into play.

Working with terns is one of those times where getting the light right is as much a challenge as filling the viewfinder with the bird.

When I first started bird-photography, the people I travelled with called id on what appeared to be two seperate species. “Whiskered Terns” and “Marsh Terns.” For many months, I ticked off both on my list thinking I was seeing two distinct species and not seeing, ‘whiskers’ on any of them, I wondered what I was missing.
One particular evening I spoke to my mentor at the time and asked how to tell the difference.  “Oh,” she replied,  “they are the same bird they just have had a name change and some of us oldies still refer to them as Marsh.
Defeated by nomenclature!

When it comes to working with these birds, my dear old Mum’s “Keep the Sun over your Left Shoulder, Dear” when using the family box-camera still holds good.  Thanks Mum.

Early morn, or late afternoon works well for me, as it gives angular light under the wings.  The only challenge to all that is the bird will have its wing in the wrong place and I’ll have the face in shadow. And as they change direction so quickly, it’s not always apparent until I get to view the shot as to how successful it was.

They also smack the water so fast that as I follow them down its hard to keep up with the sudden stop of the bird and keep panning down into just open water.
Missing the impact completely.

Like all thing photographic, some practice is the order of the day.
Meanwhile a pocketful of luck doesn’t hurt either.

As we begin our next trip around the sun, I hope that 2022 brings you some relief from the trauma of the past year and some excellent opportunities for fine images of our birds.