Saturday Evening Post: Where Ever You Are: Be There!

Sure, the shops are all closed by government decree around here, so I’m really talking from past experiences.

Have you been in a shop, ready to part with the hard earned, find what you want, approach the ‘sales’ staff, and find the they are busily enthralled in their own world on their ‘phone’. Some Tik-tok, spacebook, istafalm or other thing that holds attention.  Not wanting to make eye-contact under any circumstances, they’ll try to get the whole customer interruption, (used to called making  profit), out of the way.

Or perhaps, there is a ongoing discussion among several about lunch possibilities, or last night’s gym session.
Walk into a store, and my local greengrocer is such, and it’s a hive of activity, each customer is welcomed, a small banter of conversation, admittedly just above, “Oh have a nice day”, but at least an interest in the person.
Refreshing.

I had a friend once who was forever telling people, “Where ever you are: Be There!”
The same concepts come across in many religions. I’m not into deep meditation, or discovering my inner-self, or even spirit-filled ether of nebulous thought.

Nearly 18 months back, we were so I remember being told, “All in this together”.
Now its down to arguing why vaccine support can’t be redirected to Sydney to help. (And, please, I do understand there is much packed into that simple sentence, and  pumping more arms tomorrow is not going to bring the numbers down the day after.)

If any, us Melbournians might want to have a little compassion given we were putting out numbers like 600 or more infections A DAY, this time last year.

Wherever you are be: Be There!

What my friend was advocating, these days,  carries a well-worn, and oft, misunderstood and misused term.
Mindfulness.
It crops up in all the ‘best’ websites, lectures, books and corner spruikers.

Lao Tzu defined it so much more simply.  “Focus”  Ahh good photographic term, something I can get my head around.

Poking my head up against the viewfinder, and carefully working the composition, at some point, I have determined which part of the image is to be:
1. The focus, and
2 the Point of Sharp focus.
Wherever you are: Be there.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “To take photographs is to hold one’s breath…. It is putting one’s head, eye and one’s heart on the same axis….
There is a creative fraction of a second when you are making the picture. That is the moment the photographer is creative
     Opp!  The Moment.
Once it is gone, it is gone—Forever.”

As bird watchers, counters, seekers or photographers we are acutely  aware of the around.  The calls of the birds across the paddock, the Magpie in pursuit of a raptor, the shrill call of a White-plumed Honeyeater’s warning, a pair of Magpie Lark bonding.

I’m taking to doing much more sitting and watching, listening and soaking up the winds, sounds smells and changes of season than previously.
What is around the next turn in the track is not as alluring as years gone by. I’m happy to be a little kid on the beach, looking intently at a grain or two of sand as being overwhelmed by the broad vista before me.

Where ever you are Be There.

Besties to all those locked down, all those who are struggling with the isolation and hats off to all those dedicated Heros who are working so hard for us.  You show us the way

From the Global Headquarters of the Doona Hermit.

You don’t get more focused than a hungry juvenile Australian Hobby lining up for lunch to arrive. 🙂

 

From the Field-Notes Book: Turn the Page

By the end of 2020, the young birds were for all intents and purposes self-sufficient.

We hadn’t seen either of the adults for at least two weeks, and the young were now skilled at finding their own food.  Hunting on the ground for insects, raiding the nearby orchard for tasty morsels on the fruit trees, or helping themselves to the young recently-fledged Fairy Martins.

And then all too soon so it seems, the trees became quiet.  The loud calls of success with each catch was stilled, and they were on their way from home into the wide world around.

An end to a fascinating few weeks of learning from the birds just that little more about the lives of Hobbys.
As Mr An Onymous said to me today, on a slightly different subject, “It is one of the great mysteries of bird photography that you never get to repeat an event.  Once the birds have moved on, you’ll have plenty of shots, and memories, but it most unlikely that you’ll ever again be able to replicate that season.”

Perhaps one of his many (un)proved theories, but I did get the drift.

So, we come, as Bob Seger sings, to “Turn the Page”.

And there is the back cover of the Field Notes. The close of the book.

Enjoy

I arrived in the paddock to hear one of them calling, but I just couldn’t pinpoint where it was located, so started to scout around.
Suddenly the head popped up from behind some blanket weed on the ground. It must have been hunting in the open spaces.
I stopped and crouched down, then kneeled and finally sat. The bird went back to its business.
After gaining its fill, or perhaps it had depleted the pantry, it was time to go.
I found this one helping itself to the small insects that were on the fruittree leaves growing through the bird net covering.
Another time it was more interested in the food opportunities than my presence.
And another close fly by as it departed.
Sweeping through the sky hunting insects, such as dragonflys.
It may only be a small catch, but made with a minimum of energy, and quickly consumed so it could stretch out for more
Early morning, scanning for possibilities.

 

a quick flight out of the tree and another Fairy Martin is the prize

 

 

From the Field-Notes Book: Hobby Air Practice

Welcome back from Lockdown.
While others have found all sorts of things to complain about, and decry the efforts of those in charge, I on the other hand, have gratitude and awe, not only for the people whose job it has been to try to contain the outbreak, but the general feeling of most Victorians to simply work in their own little way to help stop the spread.
That nearly 40,000 people lined up to be tested yesterday says something about the confidence we have.

As Dan said, “I am proud of all Victorian who have done their bit”.  Seriously think we should be concentrating on the good things that have come out of the lockdown and stop nit picking over ‘he said, she said’.
Nuff said

How quickly Hobbies grow.
Just a few weeks out of the nest, and they had developed great strength and wing control.  They were also hunting for themselves.  And I didn’t see the adults in the area again. They might well have made visits, but certainly not like the first few weeks.

The nesting location is on a large river bank cliff and falls away to the Werribee Open Range Zoo on one side, and the old Heritage Orchard along the river flats.
Ideal training grounds for the young Hobbies, who were now flying rapidly almost out of sight over the Zoo, or disappearing into the trees way down river at the end of the Orchard. And.  Just as quickly reappearing.

Early on, they were still playing aerial games together, but very quickly learned to hunt in the trees lining the river banks and much too hard for photography.  Each success though was loud and sustained.

This fine looking bird was hunting on the ground among the blanket weed. Seemed unperturbed by my presence
A Wing Flap, and it’s gone.
The young birds spent many hours playing simple chase me games. How quickly the wing co-ordination developed
This was the only one were I nearly managed them all in frame
All feathers spread out hard at work
So characteristically Hobby in flight

Think I have one more page in the Field-Notes left.

Enjoy

Field-Notes Book: Meet the Neighbours

When new neighbours arrive, birds are as inquisitive as the next one.

However it didn’t always go well for the young Hobbies as some of the neighbours have a distinct dislike for raptors, small, large, young or old.

A constant source of interaction was with the Galahs in the area.

Here is one such event.

Ahh, new kid on the block. I don’t like you.
Wing flaps and crest raising begin the confrontation
Slowly but surely the Galah moves closer, crowding the young bird to another branch
In the end, the little Hobby departs

Next in line, several more turn up and chase the young Hobby about the sky.  The little dudes still don’t have real flying skills, so it’s a pretty much one way competition.
Here the galahs have outpaced and out-turned the Hobby, but give the impression of being chased.  Not so.

Just because they could.

The two Galahs thought it would be fun to harass one of the recently fledged Hobbys. 
The pair were ready to hunt it off its perch and then chase it about the sky. 
Just for fun, they let the young bird chase them once in a while as well. 

A week or so later with the young Hobby experienced enough to clip along at over 100kph, it would have been a much more dangerous game.

Early morning and one of the young was having some quiet time in the sunshine when a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets dropped by for a looksee.  Much more robust in their attack, and working as a team, the young Hobby in the end had to abandon its rest spot.

 

They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along :-  The Eagles.

   Young Hobby still having trouble coming to an understanding with the local Lorikeets.
It has much to learn, they have determination on their side.

 

Close to the last pages in the field notes.
The Hobbies quickly gain flight experience and then were off to explore the world around the nesting location.  A week on and they could disappear almost at the blink of an eye, and quickly reappear breaking all records in a sharp dive descent.

Their next adventure was learning to hunt along the tree-line nearby, but for a photographer there was not chance of keeping up with the action.

Field-Notes Book: Sharing a Meal

The young Hobbies were well established but still needed to be feed by the female.
In this sequence she divides up the catch among two of the young. The other would not miss out, as another meal was certainly on the way.

Mum is still carefully tearing off small pieces for the young,
Only a few days out of the nest, it is happy to patiently wait for each morsel
A big moment. “Can I choose a piece?”
It hurries off to a quiet spot on the brach to settle into both enjoying and learning
Number two arrives with much wing flap and calling to ensure that some of the goodies are still available
After a bit of juggling for position, it takes charge of the offering
So typical of a raptor, mantling over the prey with spread wings.
And it too takes off to begin its own feeding routine.

Field Notes Book: On the Wing

Had this ready to go and then got side-tracked last night and overlooked the Publish button.

The young Hobbies had flown. Three hungry mouths on the wing.
It is interesting to observe them in the nest. Too big to just settle down, too young to actually be out and about.
After lots of wing practice, hanging on to the nest, and exploring the close branches, they seem to have full knowledge of what is required, but the connection between flapping and letting go is not made.
Then, it’s seems, almost on a whim, they turn, flap, and are aerial.  Not that it’s great flying, mind you,  straight lines mostly, and of course the challenge of slowing down enough to grab onto a branch for security.

Presumably they were airborne the day before we arrived, as they seemed to have settled to the jobs at hand.  Dad was still bringing in food, Mum organising it and distibuting in an even manner.
Three perfect little carbon copies.

Two sitting in the open in the early morning sunshine
Although now free of the nest, they still have a close bond and peck and preen each other
Looks like food is on the way, and it might be first in best fed.
Working hard at getting the wings digging in to the air and righting the balance
Food attached, time to seek a quiet spot to enoy it.
Pfffh feathers. Now they have to prepare their own repast.
With all the skills ahead yet to learn, they still are able to turn on an impressive speed when required.

From the Field Notes Book: The Serious Business of Feeding a Hobby

We had, about a month back, one of those beautiful days that make photography not only a pleasure, but also a chance to nail some great detail.

The Hobby pair were still feeding the young, and the male was providing a steady assortment of snacks.

Here is one delivery from the series

  • The male flies in and sets on a well used exchange branch. He then calls, softly, and she has been sitting high of the nest on another tree.  Without hesitation she glides to meet him. You can just see her wing in the top of the frame.
  • With a minimum of fuss she quickly acquires the prize

    • In barely the  blink of an eye and she is on her way. As usual he is intent of watching, I assume to be ready to quickly pickup if she slips (not likely)
    • Securely tucked up, she is on her way

    • And a quick look at one of the young, now only a few days from flying.

From the Field Notes Book: Care and Feeding of a Hobby

Some more moments from feeding habits of Hobbys.

This is a single event.

  • The Male flies in with his latest acquisition.  He calls quietly to announce his presence and then just sits and waits.

  • With barely a wing-flap she sweeps out of the nest, circles and lands beside him.

  • He is always wary about letting go of the prey until he is certain that she has complete control.

    • Every time there is a food transfer, he is always so intent on watching that it has transferred correctly. He always seems ready to slip of the branch should she lose grasp.  I’d guess that it would only fall a metre or so before he was on it.  Still, I have never seen her miss.

  • Away to prepare it for the young.

  • This is not from the same sequence, but fits into the story line here well.

More to come.

 

A Fascinating Hobby

All the usual warnings of images that contain material that may ‘offend’ some viewers, and the plea to be sure to contact the appropriate helpline.

Ahh, political correctness.


I have, it must be told not ever thought about Falconry as a pasttime.
Not the sport of the rich and regal, but rather the Falconer, and their intimate relationship with these amazing birds of prey.

That such a bird could in fact be domesticated in itself seems hard to grasp.

It is also true that I’ve never spent any more than a few glancing seconds with any of the falcon family (exception being Brown Falcons, but let’s face it, they don’t have the same mystic of the Peregrine or Hobby.)

So, to have a close encounter with a pair of Australian Hobbys (sic—my spelling of the plural) and their resulting young has been quite a thought provoking experience.  Over the past few weeks EE and I, Mr An Onymous, and Neil  A. have clocked up quite a few hours learning a little about their habits, character and approach to life.

In no particular order some bullet points from my field-notes.  I must stress this is not scientific research, and is quite anecdotal-bordering on the anthropomorphic. (Again the usual warnings also apply)

  • Hobbys seem to like to sit on the highest branches available. If there is a higher one, they will move to it.
  • Hobbys seem to favour nesting in the tallest tree in the area.  And they don’t build new nests, but rather inhabit existing, mostly magpie, nests.
  • They have a wariness of humans, but at the same time seem to have developed an awareness of human habitation and used it for their benefit.  We regularly see a pair hunting through a supermarket carpark. Hard not to be impressed with a bird at over 70kph skimming over the parked vehicles.
  • This pair have used the same area, and I think the same nest for at least the past three seasons.
  •  The female sits the nest. The male brings in food.  Unlike other raptors she does not complain until he arrives. She is usually quiet.
  • He too is quiet on arrival.  A couple of short croaky calls, and he then sits on an conspicuous branch and she quietly comes and removes the catch.
  • They are both masters of efficiency.  A glide will do instead of a wing-flap. The change over is precise and almost instant.
  • He always carefully watches after she takes the food, I have concluded that if she were to slip and it fell away, he would be on it before it had dropped more than a metre.
  • This pair have feasted on Wattlebirds, Starlings, occasional Welcome Swallows and quite a parade of young Fairy Martins.  Also other larger birds that were unidentifiable as he had pre-plucked before arrival.
  • Any passing raptor, or raven is chastised from afar, and if it still persists then one, or usually both, will take close quarter action. It consists of gaining height and rolling over into awesomely fast stoops on the interloper(s).
  • I can’t find a reliable reference, but it seems they can clip along around 85-90 kph in a straight flight.  In a stoop, the speed might be as much as 150kph  or more. They are only short bursts, not the long running dive of the Peregrine.
  • In Falconry, the male is called a “Tiercel”and Old English word meaning Third. Perhaps because he is as much as one third smaller than the female. Or is it she is one third larger?

From a bird I have had only the briefest of encounters with, it has given me quite an insight into why they could be trained and how much skill a falconer must have accumulated.

Here is an a couple of days activity before the young were flown.

Click on the Gallery for larger view and slide show.

Saturday Evening Post #113: With Gratitude

Simple Post—With Gratitude.
When I was very much a young bloke, I was a member of a speaking club.  Mostly a social thing as I recall, and of course, a few business contacts never went astray.

One of the points that I recall from all that is the reviewer saying over and over.
“Make sure that you state the purpose of your message up front, early and clearly. So no one has to ponder what or where you are going. No one wants to listen for twenty minutes and then finally discover what the topic, and your point of view actually is”.  He probably didn’t end with a verb, but hey…

Magazine editors make the same demand of feature writers. If the lead is buried 5 paragraphs down, its either rewritten, or returned.

And So I find myself as we approach the end of the year, scarcely able to grasp where we have come this year, not only  physically and emotionally, but photographically.

And it lead me so far to be Grateful that I’m even here to write about it.

I’m also grateful to everyone who has kindly ‘Liked’ the blog, and to those special people who’ve taken a few moments to add their thoughts on the subject.
Me writing a blog does not make me the expert, and really it only exists if people take the time to read, and view the photos. Thanks to your all.

My gratitude to all those on the front line who have stressed and strained under the most dreadful conditions to keep us safe. What else can we say. Thank you.

To the coffee dudes in the local coffee shops who’ve struggled to keep their businesses afloat, to provide food and also a social meeting point that has helped to relieve some stresses.  Thanks.  And thanks to my plastic card that has tapped and gone so many times on cups of coffee to go.

Thanks also to the lockdown, yes I mean that.  As its given me the chance to sort out my runaway photo library. Now a svelte shadow of its former bulging self, I think I am confident the dross has been discarded.

And to the software manufacturers who have plied me with ways to “Bring out the Picture within my Photo.” with their special sauces and blends of technology. At least this year I’ve been able to play with them, and actually laid out money for one.

Thanks to EE, Mr An Onymous, Dave T David N, Len T, Chris L and so many others whom I have had the pleasure of sharing the bush, and the birds and their special patches.  It’s been a thrill each time.

And thanks to the birds. Without them ….asPoetry wouldn’t be as exciting to work on.

The Australian Hobby here is the female of a nesting pair.  She has just been delivered a meal for her young. Time to prepare it and feed her growing brood.

The eternal struggle to maintain the species goes on. Ohh ending on a preposition.(Be grateful I ended)

Photograpahic Essay: I’ve got a Hobby

Well actually we (EE and I) are monitoring a pair of Hobbys. (Haven’t concluded if it should be Hobbies, or more realistically in this case, Hobbys—but you can see where I’m going with this)

A close cousin to their much more impressive and better documented relative, the Peregrine Falcon, it is easy to spot the similarities once they get into the air.

Speed and manoeuvrability being high on the comparison list.  I’ve had the chance to watch them a couple of days in some high winds, think 70-80kph. They fold back the primaries and run on very closely tucked wings, at speeds that are almost impossible to follow in the viewfinder.  A side-different to working with say, Black-shouldered Kites, that are by comparison, quite sedate.

They have a nest. And it’s high up in one of the tallest gums in the area. Cleverly placed in the multiple “Y” that gums sometimes make with 8-10 thin branches reaching out crownlike, and she has placed her nest securely in the little fortress.

Hard to gather how far advanced they are, but the past couple of days we’ve found her sitting less on the nest, so I’d be guessing her young are beginning to take on their first feathers.

Feeding appears to have its own rules.  He comes in laden with a catch. Sits on a particular branch and calls quietly to her.  After a suitable pause in events he moves to another tree, sits and waits.

Then the express train bursts out of the nest, or from the high-up perch where she has been surveying the scene, snatches the catch and sits on a branch just near him to consume her well earned meal. So far I think the count is mostly Red Wattlebirds, but today it was a Welcome Swallow.

She is head and shoulders bigger than he. Pretty typical among raptors, but really noticeable when they sit close-by.

After helping herself, she then flies directly to the nest and seems to be feeding small pieces from her beak, so another clue the young are not that advanced.

Lastly the thing that has impressed me is the super efficiency of them both. There are no wasted wingflaps, they glide from one tree to another, hardly using any energy.  But, when needed, the wings dig in and they are gone.

Warning: Photos contain some graphic feeding moments.

The female approaching the waiting male
She has several perches that she uses while she waits. Here the flying gear is getting a work out
Arriving for her meal

The food transfer is super efficient and fast
Even though he is sitting a bit forward the size comparison is obvious.
Off to the nest to feed the young
Softly calling with the latest kill
This looks like Welcome Swallow on the menu. She is taking it straight to the nest.
The Werribee River runs behind the nest area and he explodes of the tree, disappears over the edge of the cliff and with about 3 more wing flaps is back on the tree.

Little Journeys: On the Road Again

Life I love is taking pictures with my friend.

Here we are a week or so out of a nearly 4 month lockdown. Depends of course where you start counting, but we were in one of the ‘naughty’ suburbs, so our privileges were removed a bit earlier than the rest of the city.

For EE and I, a run down to “The Office” was always going to be high on the must do first list.

So given a halfway decent burst of sunshine and we were off.

The one thing that we noted first was the amount of grass that covered normally bare areas.  A distinct lack of large kites, Black and Whistling, and how well some of the smaller scrub birds had done getting an early nesting in.

So in no particular order.

Purple-crowned Lorikeet
Purple-crowned Lorikeet pair.
Sad to report that the old branch has since parted from the tree trunk, exposing the nest, and they have moved on somewhere else. They have been loyal to this spot for at least the past four seasons.
Purple-crowned Lorikeet. Protecting its nest from marauders
Little Lorikeet. This one led me a merry chase through the leaves. I could hear it, but it just wasn’t easy to see.
Happiness is… A White-browed Scrubwren with tucker for its young.
Looks like the Dusky Woodswallows has swept in while we were in lockdown and already had a clutch of young on the wing
Most interesting find of the day. Juvenile Fantail Cuckoo waiting to be fed.
Fantail; Cuckoo and its hosts, White-browed Scrubwrens.
The adult Cuckoo must have been very clever as I always find these little birds among the most wary.
Higher up the track on the cliff line, a pair of Australian Hobby are re-nesting in a familiar spot. More to come on their progress I think.
The age old battle of David and Goliath. The immovable object v the irresistible force.
Both have much at stake with young to be fed.

 

Photographic Essay: On the Road Again

Our first real day out after 4 months of Lockdown.

The title of the blog says more to my hairstyle than it does to the fact we were out and about.

At the moment, Willie Nelson and I have similar hairstyles. 🙂
So hum a few bars of “I’m on the Road Again, life I love is making photos with my friend, and I’ can’t wait to be on the Road Again.”

Where else would we have started than a trip to “The Office”.

As it turned out not a bad choice for a day out.  We loaded up IamGrey and with a sandwich and a cuppa it looked to be a good day.

Here is a quick selection from the day.

First up for the day. Purple-crowned Lorikeets. Each time I find these little birds I always come away feeling better about life and the world in general. They have such calming attitudes
This pair have a nesting site that is regularly used. I was really happy to find them out enjoying the sunshine
Another pair of Purple-crowned have a solid branch for their site. This one is blocking the hole so that marauding Rainbow Lorikeets will not bother its young.
There has always been a steady number of Little Lorikeets at the Office.
I was hoping they might be nesting, but this one did not seem to be interested.
It took me quite awhile to find it amongst the canopy. For all their bright colours they are muted in the shadows of the leaves and blend in so well.
White-browed Scrubwren busy with lunch
A recently fledged Fantail Cuckoo. Another score for EE.
It sat for quite a time, as we ate our sandwich and enjoyed the Earl’s good blend.
It no doubt has been hosted by some unfortunate thronbill or wren.
It took off to a bush, and I followed to see where it had gone.
Not the best photo I ever made, but does show the activity.
The young bird quite happily called in “Scrubwrenese” and within a few moments a White-browed Scrubwren arrived with food, followed immediately by a second one.
So perhaps the Scrubbies have been host to this rather large youngster.
After following a lot of calling noises we located a pair of Australian Hobby that have settled into nesting. The local Red Wattlebirds have taken exception to the visitors and kept up a running battle with both birds.
No doubt their numbers will diminish when the young Hobbys are hatched.
The never ending battle.
Wagtail on Raven

 

And so humming a few more bars of Willie Nelson’s tune, we headed back to IamGrey and home.

 

Surprise! A Hobby at the Office

Hope you survived the little tirade in the last post. All is forgiven.

EE and I thought, based on the last couple of adventures to The Office, that we needed to make a quick looksee if the Black-shouldered Kites had settled.
Many will remember Kitty and Kalev (The Brave), and their nesting attempts over the last couple of seasons.
They are fairly tolerant, and as she makes some of the best, most secretive nests, the chances of interrupting her on nest are pretty slim. And he has no problems about bringing mice in for her virtually above our sit spot.

So it was with a bit of an expectant parent  looksee, that we turned up on a mostly cloudy day and looked around the carpark. And there they were, clever pair, way down the range, and out of camera reach.

“Perhaps he’ll come over to hunt along the river edge,” says she. So we meandered on along the river bank.

DWJ_2972.jpg

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