Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017
Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
the best timing and an awareness of the around.
Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin
You’re Welcome Here.
We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant. The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters. They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.
The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like. And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.
So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.
I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision. He has a series called Vision is Better. He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story. On one such video he travels to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear. His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).
We’ve been housebound because of the weather, and in the early afternoon, the sun shone, blue sky, and we decided to head to Twenty Nine Mile Road. Just for a look, and then a coffee on the way home. The Plant is Locked Out to mere mortals at the moment as the roads are a quagmire from the rains, the constant 4WD traffic, and that one of the number of bird watchers managed to put their ‘fourbee’ off the road and into a bog, requiring work by the management to get it out. So.
The weather forecast was loaded with gloom and doom, but we thought it was worth the risk just for the time out.
And we managed some good sunshine for about 30 minutes. And then a great big black cloud with a distinct grey sheet falling from it, headed in our direction. It was, as they say. All over.
And in the same direction a large raptor, which as it came closer was definitely a White-bellied Sea-eagle. It swung in on the wind, which even optimistically could be measured somewhere between 50-60kph. The rain was ripping in behind it. The bird landed, without a care on a roadway bund between two ponds. And with the rain pelting down it just sat and watched. A lone Samp Harrier had clued on that something was going to happen and was making various treks back and forth behind the eagle. We were stuck sitting in the car with the window open, and rain pouring in. Close window at least.
And it waited. It seemed to me the wind and the rain were increasing, but still it sat. And looked.
Then at what can only be described as ‘The height of the storm”. — or as poor old much maligned Edward Bulwer-Lytton “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” might have said.
The bird casually turned its body into the wind, raised the wings and lifted off. And to my real surprise, headed “into” the wind. Long deliberate beats that took it just over the water out along the pond.
Then it became clear through the rain.
A lone Eurasian Coot had taken that moment to make its run across the lake. Wrong move!
With the rain hammering at me as I swung open the door, and raced back along the road to get a clear look at the event, the eagle made several passes at the hapless coot, and then I lost it behind a clump of grass in between, and to be honest, the sting of the rain, the lack of wet protection for body and camera, and it was time to go back to the ‘safety’ of the car. EE had managed to get a better look of the eagle as it brought the coot to land.
But. Let’s face it. A long way away, drenching rain, no light, and buckets of contrast and colour and sharpening and noise reduction, and this a about as good as it gets.
I guess I make no apology for the images. At least we were there.
The power of the eagle is still haunting my thoughts. I was having trouble walking in that wind.
Thanks to EE for supplying the last moments of the action.
So most months there is an event to turn up to. It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!
So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.
So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.
Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it. Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.
28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities. We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time. No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.
Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!! 😦
Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma, stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer. We drove. And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close. Too much fun.
We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.
As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.
On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.
Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond. (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view. It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated. By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!
These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining. See some other blogs on here.
A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and time for home.
Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us. Hope to see you all again down the track.
The last burst of sunshine for a week or so according to the weather prognosticators, the icon ladies, and the general look out the door.
So with just a little light left we decided to go looksee along 29 Mile Road.
No Kites. Orion has hunted the area dry it seems. (Perhaps those Olympian gods can now justifiably enjoy their umbrage.)
Lot of noise on the fence line just off the road. A small family of Golden-headed Cisticolas were intent on something.
And putting it all together after the event, I do believe I might have stumbled on a Cisticola version of “The Gunfight at OK Corral”
Seems that two males were going at it with a will, and all the family came out to see the event.
One of the major tactics it turns out is a lot of Ztttt Zttt yelling, and wing waving and turning and flicking of tail. This last technique is done with back to the opponent so they get to see just how serious you are.
Hard to work out in this little melodrama who was Wyatt Earp, and who was the various Clantons, but none the less the seriousness of it all can not be overlooked.
After about 10 minutes of dancing along the fence, turning and twisting that little tail and much Zrrrtt Zrrrt calls, one flew off leaving the other one the undisputed King of the Post. Well at least that is the way I’m writing it.
Jon Young says, “There is nothing random about bird’s awareness and behaviour. They have too much at stake…. Being tuned into the tapestry…. we are venturing into a realm of awareness, and intention and curiosity. I’ve had some magical experiences in the natural world, and some of them have involved birds.”
He quotes a San Bushman, “One day I see a small bird and recognise it. A thin thread will form between me and the bird. I will go again tomorrow and recognise it and the thread will thicken. Eveytime I see and recognise the bird, the thread strengthens. It will eventually grow to become a rope. That is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes to all aspects of the creation this way.”
Appreciation of the bird’s perspective.
Which puts us in the vehicle, heading along the 29 Mile Road at Avalon, in the early morning sunshine. EE, Mr An Onymous and I. And as we draw nearer to the end of the road, a thought from us all, was, “Will Orion still be here?”
We need not have worried.
Sitting on a small tree, about 10m off the side of the road. And by the look, having just eaten. Feathers still wet with the dew from the grass of his last capture.
At first we stop the car on the far side of the road, and they photograph through the open window.
Orion turns his head, takes note, and then develops, ‘Soft eyes’. Jon talks to this a lot, and I’ve mentioned it here before, but its the type of eyes that look right past you, with complete confidence. I stepped from the car, I’m on the far side remember, and approached from the sunside, and moved across the road. ‘Soft eyes’ followed me. Because of the line of the branch, his stance, and the way the light is running in the early morning, I want to be about 10m further out in the open. And of course the chance is he will spook and fly.
I make the first few shots. Orion sinks down onto the branch, and I take that as an invitation. Purposefully, rather than creeping up slowly, (that only spooks birds the worst), I move to the open area. Now, the backdrop is not right, so I need another 4 or 5 metres. He throws his head back and begins to hawk-up the fur ball from the last meal. I move. Soft eyes follow.
Because of the lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to isolate him against the backdrop without a horizon line running somewhere. I could go lower, but then it would be blue sky. Nice, but not encompassing. Besides crouching down human with long lens is going to turn those soft eyes to ones of determined study. So I opt for another step or two to put his head against the far distant tree line. That will have to do.
Orion settles to preen.
EE and Mr A take all this as a sign of relaxation and they also move off the roadway for the better angle and the light. Orion soft eyes. We’re cool.
In the end, we’ve enough for a game of cards, the three of us and Orion.
Preening, wingstretches, repositioning on the branch. And all the time he seems completely settled.
After an hour of standing in the fine sunshine, carrying a long lens, and working with a bird that seems to have no fear of us, a great deal of understanding, awareness and connection emerges.
The others move back to the car. I bid this able bird ‘good morning’ and follow them back. Soft eyes follow me.