Saturday Evening Post #198

It has been said by those who know, that, ” The call of the sea is heard only by those who have the nature of the sea in them”. And as I have an irrational fear of boats, I guess I missed hearing the sea bellowing at me.

But then there are so many other things that call us, and some we reject and others we accept and it becomes a passion, (Which I guess is what the original quote was poetically referring to.)

I have been a photographer nearly all my life, (excluding the first 8 years of said life). Did I hear some faint shutter sound, imperceptible to those around me. Or was it the slosh of developer in a processing tank? Or the biting smell of acetic acid in the stop bath?
When asked the inevitable question at a function or such, “What do you do? Or these days, “What Did you do?” I always respond the same way. “I am a photographer, by backgound, training and profession

Because I discoverd early on, answering “Photographer”, always opens up for scorn and derision. Like, how could that be a real occupation!
But the supposed call of photography has rather been more an ear-trumpet to other pursuits. Currently it’s birds. And as I’m getting older, birds in flight, and raptors in particular it seems.

I’ve chased down many alleys in pursuit of images. Two areas I’ve stayed away from are Food photography and Medical photography—can’t stand the sight of blood. 🙂
Each field has usually led me to unusual characters, amazing people, and lots of learning.
Sure, I know, I could have done it someother way, but filling it with photos has been the icing on the cake.

Gail Mooney, (you can find her here on WordPress) said, (and she has at least 30 years experience as an illustrative photographer), ” If I was just starting out, or in my 40’s, or 50’s, … I would not be complacent!”

And I look at all the excuses I’ve used in the past.
Oh its too cold, I’ll stay home
I need a new Lens
The light is not right
I’m not getting enough ‘likes on facebook” —Trust me. That one is made up 🙂
I just can’t find anything to photograph today
Perhaps the client won’t like that shot
The Bride’s Mother kept getting in the way

It’s a long list.

If the call of sea drives sailors to make amazing journeys then I’m so glad that the same sort of call by that ever-so-silent shutter, so long ago has kept me from becoming complacent about making the best pictures I can, as often as I can and enjoying the companship of other like minds.


Nailed Mr and Mrs Muddie in flight—albiet on different days. Just happened to notice them while I was shuffling some pictures around.
Thought a diptych was the answer.

From the Field Notes Book: Another Clutch for Belle and Bronson

I’ve been a bit remiss of late keeping the current nesting updated on the blog.
I had decided that I’d just wait to make a single story rather than publish in installments.

Belle and Bronson had finished a clutch in early April, and the young were honing the last of their hunting skills, when it became obvious that the pair were planning a second clutch in the same nest.
Normally after a clutch, the female takes a well earned break and may not be around for several weeks, and feeds herself, or sometimes moves on to another territory.
So it was interesting to see them carrying sticks, Bronson feeding her and mating on a regular basis.

Then. The weather turned.
I’m sure she didn’t plan for it, but the weather simply went from bad to dreadful. Rain. Wind. Hail. Gales. Some days all together.

EE and I were talking over the image selection for this set, and noted how few days of bright sunshine there had been and how much of the journey we had missed simply because it was too cold and dreadful to be out in the field.

Yet, to their credit, they persisted. The nest is exposed to the North. So any strong northerly winds, and there were whole days of that, really blasted onto the nesting site. It is a clever nest, among the young leaves and twigs at the end of a branch. It is built over a ‘Y’ at the end of the branch and a short dead stick in the centre of the “Y” takes the load bearing. But on a strong wind, the nest was lifted near vertically and must have been a wild ride for the brooding mother and eventually the hatched young.

Yet. To their credit, they persisted.

There are a few more photos than I’d normally publish and I’ve interspersed them through the text notes.

The first step in the process it seems is for the nest to be refurbished. Some internal material was removed, old feathers, dried leaves and some sticks. Perhaps it was soiled by the young before they could move about. Then a range of new sticks were added to build up the edges of the nest as the young had stood on the edges.

The next step was to top up Belle’s reserves. She will be on the nest and unable to catch for perhaps as long as 45 days. She will let him know when she is hungry.

It’s not often easy to get a glimpse of her on the nest, as she sits well down. This was a little later in the brooding and most likely the young were hatched and she was sitting over them rather than down on the eggs.

Hard to know at first how many are in the nest. For quite awhile we though we only saw two, so one might have been a few days behind the others. But once they get their bearings they are quick to want to see the world around them. It is often interesting to see those rich ginger colours, which at first seem to bright to hide them, but suprisingly (I jest) the grey, white and ginger are a perfect match for the nesting location.

Several days before they fly they move about the branches and twigs, a combination of clambering and jumping. This enterprising one had managed to get right out in the open to plead with Bronson for an extra helping.

Then the big day comes and they step out of the tree and into the air. Getting out is not so much a problem for them as working out how to slow down and stop well enough to land. The first few attempts usually are just dumping into the surrounding leaves—just as well they are soft. But in a day or so they can judge the speed and angle and make it on to the branches, albiet in a haphazard fashion

But the skills develop quickly, as you would expect, and within a few days they are highly manouverable little aeronauts. Wing strengh develops and long forays down the paddocks and out of sight become the norm.

Then begins the process of teaching them to take prey from the male. They take to this execise with great enthusiasm, very little skill, clumsiness and what can best be described as un-coordination.
A hard time for the male as he gets buffetted about by the young who judge the speed, height and angle badly and barrell into him with no hope of making split second corrections.
He seems to take all this in a stoic manner and I’ve seen him sometimes raise a little higher to match the upward speed, or drop lower with a long outstretched leg to place the mouse in the waiting claws. Other times he seems to be able to hold out the mouse and then slip away sideways to avoid a headon collision.

Eventually all the training comes to fruition and they become highly skilled at judging the parameters and can do it with a minimum of effort and few missed opportunities.

And now they are just bragging. The once unskilled can now make a bold one legged move.

This happened a long way out, and I’ve only got small shots of the entire sequence, but the young one secured the mouse, and somewhere between grasping it, and wanting to eat it in the air, of course it dropped the mouse. Bronson was on to it but as my Flickr site shows, a mouse free-falling is faster than a Kite. They are built for hovereing and do not have the speed of say, a Peregrine or Hobby, and the mouse tumbled to the ground. He was however right behind it, and I think this one was dead, as he quickly retrieved it, took it to a branch and the young one safely collected it.

Soon the colours will fade and they will be ready to face the world on their own. As Eleanor pointed out the orange colouring come from a chemical in the feathers, Porphyrin.

It seems the baby colours out of the nest don’t moult out, the rich copper tones fade out gradually over a few week.
The brownish colour on young BSKs comes from Porphyrin, which fades in sunlight.

Eleanor says, “Porphyrin, which has been studied less than other pigments, as it doesn’t occur in large numbers of birds. It is found for example in the reddish-brown feathers of a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite. This fades after a few weeks, without the birds replacing the feathers, as it degrades in sunlight. It is also found in the brown and reddish spots on birds’ eggs.”

I also found this definitive article…

Porphyrin also emitts or fluoresces under UV light so the colouring would show up quite brightly for the birds, which may be an indication of individuals, or breeding potential.
All just too fascinating.

And so through the sleet, the hail, the rain, the high winds and freezing cold they have matured enough to move on from the nest site.
Here Bronson is sitting with them, a symbolic sort of image as they are now banned from the nesting area, as Belle is already preparing a new nest and by the time I publish this, no doubt she will have another clutch on the go.

Saturday Evening Post #197: Banished

How quickly Belle and Bronson’s young kites have grown.

Yesterday, in the sunshine I might add, we arrived and expected to see them in the adjacent area. But hunt as we might, there was no sign.
Then EE spied them way down the paddock, a long way from the nest.
And for reasons that shall be come obvious, the parents seem to have given them their marching orders.

They have been on the wing just about four weeks. Normally they would be ready to leave, if not gone by about week six, so these young are hopefully well enough advanced to look after themselves.

More searching for the third one, and eventually it turned up a little later in the morning to sit with this pair. One had flown up to the home nesting area, but a very speedy adult flew in a direct, straight line to intercept it, and with some outstretched claws and calling, the young quickly got the message and returned to their end of the paddock.

I read somewhere that the attrition rate for young kites is very high, can’t relocate the details, but it was over 50% that would succumb to an accident, or predator, or starvation within the first year.
(Please don’t quote me on this, and if I find the reference, I will update here)
Once Bronson stops feeding them, there is no further interaction with the parents and they just move on to find food and establish their own territory.

And the reason for their banishment?

It soon became obvious that Belle had a new nest on the go. Normally she would disappear for a few weeks, or month before making a new attempt, but the pair are well on the way to finalising the project and the young kites are unwanted as competition for food.

During the coming week I’ll put up a blog page with some of the actitity from this hatching.

In the meantime, I found this link online of a reseach paper about nesting Black-shouldered Kites up near Tamworth, “Foraging, Breeding Behaviour and Diet of a Family of Black- shouldered Kites Elanus axillaris near Tamworth, New South Wales”

Now some of their findings suggest that Belle and Bronson have either not bothered to read the paper, or the Black-shouldered Kite Instruction book as some of their behaviour differs from the paper’s birds. Still its a fascinating piece of reseach and more power to Stephen Debus and his team for the hours spent in the field and then in collating the findings.


Saturday Evening Post #196: Can I have a bite?

There is an ad currently running on the telly for some sort of icecream confectionary and has someone with a friend how wants a bite of the icecream. Said friend keeps popping up in the most embarrassing moments asking, “Can I have a bite”

Thought the actions and expression of this little kite to its sibling was a bit like the ad. You settle down for a quite rest on a branch and someone comes to disturb.

The pair were actually preening and this one thought it might help by picking through the neck feathers.

We have been struggling a bit this week with very average weather and haven’t been able to put in much time either with the local kites or some other birds we’ve been monitoring.
So the weather doesn’t help the attitude either.

Had an interesting online discussion with a photographer who has returned from a trip with something like 4,000 images and the need to ‘process’ them. Along the way we talked about the interesting fact that these days taking a picture is ‘free’ no cost invovled and so we tend to take lots of them. Not just multi-burst, but lots of them and then hopefully edit back later.

Part of his lament was that out of the 4,000 or so images he would only spend some time on just a few. The rest would go unprocessed.
Even in the past couple of years the entire multi-burst concept has changed. Once you might get a camera to make 3 frames in a second. The problem for us DSLR users is that mirror has to go up and come down for the next exposure.
Now, mirrorless has numbers that match motionpicture speeds. My Dad’s old movie camera ran at 16 frames per second, many of the newer cameras exceed that by a long way.

Sure, editing is easy. Keep going till you get the good one. The one with the right expression, or the moment the bird behaves unusually, or get the perfect wing extention as it lifts of the branch, or lifts the fish out of the water.


Yet here’s a classic shot my Flickr friend Neil made of a Collared Sparrowhawk with prey. One shot stuff.

The image is the work of Neil Mansfield via Flickr All rights are his.

So while the technology is always going to help us achieve some seemingly impossibe shots, sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s patience. Sometimes, perhaps its going through the 4000 shots to find the gem and the rest will just be snapshots.

Saturday Evening Post #195: Dreaming

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“If you spend a long period of time in study and self-cultivation, you will enter Tao. By doing so, you also enter a world of extraordinary perceptions.
You experience unimaginable things, receive thoughts and learning as if from nowhere, perceive things that could be classified as prescient.
Yet if you try to communicate what you experience, there is no one to understand you, no one who will believe you.
The more you walk this road, the farther you are from the ordinary ways of society. You may see the truth, but you will find that people would rather listen to politicians, performers, and charlatans.”

― Wayne W. Dyer

Sometimes people say the most insightful things, but sometimes it takes awhile to sink in, or perhaps other overwhelming thoughts press the useful to background.

Had a cuppa the other day with a few folk who were bemoaning the advent of our societies entrapment or mesmerisation by social media and technology in general. And how things were not like that in ‘the good old days’.

And it seems to me that the policticans, performers and charlatans have been able to make the most of the media, and why are the creatives left behind. But I think perhaps it’s what people dwell on, rather than searching out for the inspirational.
There are plenty of pages, blogs and sites that allow creatives to express and reveal so much of their vision. As Mike Johnson of The Online Photographer once said, “Every generation has something new to offer, and you’ve got to take them on their chosen terms.”

Robin Walley, “The Lightweight Photographer”, also was offering some advice on composition. The takeaway for me, was not that the subject or scene conformed to some given set of rules, or even a set of ‘percieved rules’ of the viewer, but rather where was the photographer’s heart. Can I find that in the shot. Thinking back on some of the early photos I (or you) might have made and we were pretty excited about. What would it be like to revisit that same location or subject.

Robin says.

I shot this on my recent trip to Cornwall when walking through some woodland. It could be anywhere, yet I found it rewarding to spot and capture. The shape of the trees, the shadows and the light on the bridge all combined to make me think there is a picture here. I took a moment to capture it and then the light changed, and the moment was gone.

I remember wondering at the time if I had imagined the scene briefly looking good.

It’s also interesting to think back to when I first became interested in photography. I would often see images like this in books and wonder “What was the photographer thinking. It’s just a path, bridge and trees. There’s nothing worth photographing.”

How things change.

The young kites are starting to stretch their wings.  For them it’s not an adventure, it’s life.  
For us it’s an exciting adventure in photography. It’s like finding the flower in your hand.

Saturday Evening Post #194: The Amazing Magpie

Just prior to covid restrictions, you know, BC (before covid) I had just started an “Amazing Magpies” project. I had opened up a webpage on SmugMug and was beginning to develop some acceptance by several Magpie pairs in our area. I was hoping to be able to follow them through the nesting and fledging of their crop for the season.
Living in Melbourne with the longest lockdown of any city in the world, I think some of the Maggies past on by the time we were out and about again. So I saved myself some money and closed the SmugMug page.

Mentioned last blog that we’d been out and had spent some time with a number of Magpie pairs on the day. Interesting to see that now that the nesting season in approaching how the pairs are beginning to take notice of oneanother.

Unlike many other birds, Magpies don’t seem to have courtship rituals. No long dance routines, or fly displays. They just seem to know who the right mate is, and stay together.
And that’s what we’ve been seeing.

They seem to have begun to take much more notice of each other. Walking and hunting close to one-another, attentive little games. One pair we found today were playing some sort of hide-and-seek game around a bush. Running behind the bush so as not to be seen, but then, sticking a head out to be sure to be found. Frolicking at the ‘discovery’. Now I’m sure I’m anthropomorphising the activities but how else do you explain it.

One pair already has a nest site chosen, and the discussions are down to the furniture going in, and who does what in the construction. But mostly they sit on a fence together and scan the territory to be sure no one has dared to put a wing-flap over the boundary. If it should happen both are off at great speed and much wing noise as they rush to encourage the competition to move along.

So I thought about re-establishing the project. But in the end wondered if there was a Flickr group for Australian Magpies. After all there is a Flickr group for just about everything else. Including groups for Facebook and Instagram. 🙂 No Joke. Go figure.

But no. No group for Aussie Maggies. So. I’ve started one.
I guess I’ll be posting a few more Maggie pics to Flickr over the next few months, to keep the group up todate.

For those not on Flickr here is the link to the Group.

You can click through the images in the group in this slide show

Australian Magpie, Marysville

Thanks Eleanor for quickly adding some images