Along the Track: A Morning at the Plant

After the last couple of ranty posts, I thought I fine day at the plant might be a good idea. 🙂

The Western Treatment Plant is about the size of Phillip Island and to travel all the tracks and explore all the possible bird sites can easily consume an entire day, and a goodly chunk out of the fuel budget for the week. 🙂

We tend to be a bit selective about the areas we travel through. Preferring to stop at one location for a time and see what is moving about. It also depends a lot upon the weather. Being a flat farmland, there is little shelter from high winds or the heat of midday.

So we tend to go either late in the afternoon when conditions are good, or early in the morning. Morning can be hard at first as the long drive in from the main road is directly into the rising sun. But once in the bird area it becomes easier.

We had decided to go on the morning as the weather looked promising, and if the wind picked up as predicted then back to the Highway Lounge and a Gerry Coffee.

Here then is a look at how the morning, and the birds progressed.

White-bellied Sea-eagle being harassed by a passing Swamp Harrier. I don’t think the apex predator was fazed.
Said Swamp Harrier, then made a close pass over the reeds on our side of the lake.
The ponds held many Hoary-headed Grebes.
A committee meeting. These two Sea-eagles were resting a long way out in the middle of the large lake.
Meanwhile up close the Reedbirds were moving about in the sunshine
A small selection of the many hundreds of Hoary-headed Grebes.
Whatever the current title, I still refer to them as Mountain Duck. The nomenclature police seem to think they are Australasian Shelduck. I don’t think the birds care really. They now all have nice new feathers and will be journeying northward soon
Not sure if this Sea-eagle was from the earlier lake ones, or whether it came in from south along the beachline. But there could be as many as four working in the area at present.
This Collared Sparrowhawk was making the most of the increasing high winds. And showing off that extended middle toe.
Fueling up for a long trip ahead. Curlew Sandpiper
These two Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are starting to colour up. Here they are ‘hiding’ out of the strong wind behind some reeds
It has been an increasing good year for Brolga at the Plant. We saw one pair with two well grown young. A second pair with a young one, and this third pair on their own
One of my fav inflight birds. The Little Egret
I can’t ever recall seeing an Austalasian Grebe standing up, nor on a rock. Perhaps a nest is on the way.
Also managed a great wing display just for bonus points.

Little Visits: Dressing for Autumn

Before anyone starts writing to me about the following encounter, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the blog. Thanks.

We were deep in Cassia, of Cinnamon Country. Part of the pair’s territory includes an area known by locals as, “The Duck Pond”. A small ephemeral pond(?) created with good intentions, but unsuccessful in the sandy beach area. However there is a good stand of trees and some favourite perches for the Good Lady of the Manor and her handsome companion.

The long winter rains had filled the Duck Pond and it made a perfect nursery for a number of water birds to raise their young. We were monitoring a pair of Little Aussie Battlers, who were risking it all for a second clutch before the pond dries out.

Given the Grebes mistrust of humans, while EE made a close approach I stayed on the outside of the tree line and watched proceedings, and also kept an eye across the paddock.

I spotted a dark shape moving over the dried grasses of the paddock, and after a few seconds decided to put the camera on it for a better look. It was Cassia, of Cinnamon.
She was heading across the paddock in the general diretion of the tree line. I am convinced that Brown Falcons do not fly whilly-nilly about but each move is determined and with purpose.
She kept coming. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that she was on a direct line to where I was standing. And, I began to make a frame or two. The approach was typical Falcon. Low and fast. And, to make it more complex for the photographer, she was coming out of the sun, so it was mostly a glare in the viewfinder.
She crossed a fence line just in front of me, and swept up, and into the sun.
Blinded momentarily, I didn’t see where she went and I turned around but couldn’t see her flying through.
EE helped by pointing up.

And there, just above my head sat a very calm Brown Falcon. I tippy-toed out from under the tree for a better view. Would she move?

She settled in to preening. As I stepped back I noticed that her companion, he is a most handsome light coloured bird, was in a tree on the other side of the pond.
Some detective work afterward, suggested he had brought in a snack, but, had dropped it when challenged by a passing Hobby or Peregrine.
Being glued to the narrow view through the lens, I’d missed all the extra activity.

And that no doubt was why Cassia had made the journey. I found a fresh caught prey in the grass near the fence a little later on, and suspect that it was the piece contested. Also there is no doubt that Cassia knew exactely where it was and would reclaim it later.

She made no effort to move from her perch while I moved about for a better angle, and when I finally walked further down the tree line, she also moved to see what I was doing (perhaps?- am I that interesting?) Which allowed me to make several different portaits.

40 minutes later (I checked the camera time data) and she still was in no hurry to move on. So we left her to do what Browns seem to do so well.

It is worth checking her tail set in these frames as she is well on the way to moulting in a new set of feathers to replace the summer worn out ones. And there are a few wing feathers that need replacing too.
Some recent blog posts show her worn feathers.
No doubt in a couple of weeks, her new wardrobe will be complete.


Flying low across the paddock. And just in case you should wonder. She is looking directly at me, and is well aware of my presence.
Just about to get lost in the Sun. She is sweeping up to land in the tree directly over my head
I think she might still be watching the Hobby high in the sky overhead
Also spotted her handsome companion. He is a wonderful light coloured bird. But has a zero tolerance policy for the human condition.
A view of the double tail as the new tail feathers grow into place.
Sometimes preening is a neverous reaction, other times it’s down to the serious business of looking your best for WordPress
Did I mention he is human intolerant. TIme to depart.
I like the look here, “Now where is he going?”
We moved back down the pond area, and she also relocated. Gave me some casual portaits
Changes of light and angle give different aspects. One legged pose suggests she is quite comfortable
I’d be confident she was working out the best appoach to pickup the dropped carcass.

As I was preparing this post, I came across some interesting and relevant info on Brad Hill’s Natural Art Images website on field techniqes

This paragraph is about getting close.

Getting Close: Hiding in Plain Sight. 
This is my preferred method of getting close to and working with wildlife. The goal of this approach is to have the wildlife, over time, come to accept my presence and have THEM approach me (rather than chasing them across the landscape).
The biggest downside of hiding in plain sight is that can be very time consuming. While I can think of worse things than sitting out in the wilderness for hours or days on end (though it can be decidedly uncomfortable at times), it does take extreme patience and focused attention (so it’s unlikely any today’s teenagers will ever practice this technique). Interestingly, I can’t count the times where I’ve captured memorable – and totally unexpected – images (like this Lorquin’s Admiral) while hiding in plain sight.
This ability to watch ALL around me while hiding in plain sight is extremely valuable (and the inability to do so one of the main reasons I don’t like sitting in an enclosed blind).
Don’t think I’m holding back information on this “hide in plain sight” technique – it doesn’t involve any form of animal “whispering” or zen-like connection with the wildlife. There’s nothing magical, special, or even difficult about it, other than finding the discipline and time to practise it.

Disclaimer policy.
This bird is completely wild.
There is no baiting, or use of calls, or other methods to encourage the bird to approach.
It’s her choice to fly aross the paddock and land where-ever she wants to.
We’ve worked with the pair for a number of seasons and are careful to treat them both with respect and care.
I take her confidence very seriously and feel we are fortunate to be graced by her presence.

We don’t get a close encounter on every trip, and should she be put to wing in my presence, I am the lesser for the carelessness.

Along The Track: Teach Fishing

So the old story goes:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach him to fish
And he’ll sit in a boat all day drinking beer. (at least I think that’s how it goes)

EE was out for the day, and as the weather was fine in the afternoon, I decided to go to a special place at Point Cook park. We don’t usually go out that far, as its a long haul through some very loose slippery sand so we avoid it.

A point in the park was formed millenia ago when the great western plains lava flows occurred. The lava jutted a tongue out into what was to become Port Phillip Bay. Over the years, sand has been deposited on both sides of the rocks, and two tiny little bays have been formed with the sand keeping the water shallow.
On low tide the point can go out for about 150m or more, and on very low tide the sands are exposed and its possible to walk out most of the way.

The rocks form a lovely resting spot for the seabirds and it’s not unusual, even on high tide, to find cormorants, gulls and terns, and occassionally swans and pelicans making the most of the view.

I like it as a quiet, lonesome place. One of my preferred solo birding spots.

So I pushed on through the pine plantation, slogging over the hot slippery sand until I reached the coolness of the shoreline. Then a few minutes along the beach to the point. Luck would have it, it was late on a falling tide so there was some exposed sand I could walk out on. Because of the little bays, the water is pretty shallow and it’s easy to take off boots and socks and roll up the Levis and wade out a bit.

Greater Crested Terns were in abundance and fishing further out, but returning to enjoy a meal on the rocks. A scattering of Red-necked Stints were also in attendance, getting ready for their epic journey.
When I walk out in the water paralled to the rocks, the birds generally are relaxed and don’t seem to pay any attention. Except for a pair of Pied Oystercatchers, that immediately moved as far away as they could to the sand on the far side. Then they do what Oystercatchers do best. They glared at me.

A tern came in with its latest catch and seemed to want to brag to everyone about its good fortune, and flew about from rock to rock cackling and playing with the meal.

I moved back to the sanddune and sat on the grass with a brew of the Earl’s finest and soaked up the feeling of isolation.

With a loud call and wing flurry the gulls all took to the air and at first I missed the action, then a dark shape flew over the rocks. Regaining composure, and the camera, I called out to no one in particular, “Arctic Jaeger”, and as there was no one else, its just as well I didn’t call to anyone in particular.

Sure enough. A Jaeger was looking for an afternoon snack, and what better way than to relieve some hapless gull of its meal.
But they were gone. It turned to head along the beachline, just as an unsuspecting Tern flew in with its latest meal. The Jaeger summed the matter up in a split second and the chase was on. Jaegers have a surprising turn of speed and incredible air contol, at one point, its head was going in one direction, its wings in another, the body in yet another direction and its feet controlling the action.

Somehow the Tern managed to lose enough height to get onto the sand, and mantle its meal with its wings. Thwarted the Jaeger moved along the beach to retrieve some other offering and in the flick of a wing was gone.

Time had run out, so it was time for me to slog back through the pines and home.


Greater Crested Terns
A Greater Crested Tern doing a spin dry to remove excess water
A young Greater Crested Tern picking up from the shallows
One of a handful of Red-necked Stints working the area
Showing off its prize
Don’t play with your food.
Arctic Jaegar. A summer visitor, not one I’d usually see, and certainly not in close to shore
A very surprised Tern
Jaeger applying the brakes
A serious chase and one the Tern does not want to lose
Closing in
The Tern was heading for the safety of the beach and managed to land with its food intact.
Thwarted the Jaeger collected something from the beach before flying off
And for bonus points! As I was leaving a Black-faced Cormorant flew in. They normally reside futher south in the Bay, so its been good to have a few around.