Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Raptor Alley

Just a quick look at any weather forecast over the past two weeks would draw the conclusion we’ve been having a spot of weather at the moment.  And you’d be right.  The mushy cloud days, the biting cold, the wind and the rain. And mostly the lack of Sunshine.

Its not much fun for a  photographer to venture out for small birds as the forest is wet and its hard to get much light in under the canopy.  Big field birds become grey blobs against even greyer backdrops.

So it was a bit unusual last Wednesday afternoon to see the sunshine sweeping along streets.   “Grab the cameras and let’s go to Twenty Nine Road”, EE suggested.

So we did.

Two of the major roads that run through the Western Treatment Plant complex,- and don’t require a permit-, are The Beach Road, and Twenty Nine Mile Roads.   They both have huge paddock areas that these days are no longer used for the original purpose (the disposal of the waste from Melbourne), and are now farmed over for a range of farm products.  (Not for human consumption).   One of the crops is maize and it is ready for harvest. I assume they use it to feed the stock cattle.

One of the benefits of all this production is off course that the mice see the left over and dropped seed and corn as an indication of bounty, and begin to multiply.  And as they do, the raptors, not likely to forego a mouse dinner move in to match the increase. Which of course helps the mice produce more, and more raptors move in. …. fill in the blanks.

On a sunny afternoon, its nice to be able sit along the roadway near the harvested paddocks and watch the various hunting techniques.   Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites hovering.  Whistling Kites and Black Kites hunting from the air, Goshawks swooping through prepared for anything that moves, and of course the Kites being prepared to wrestle food from the smaller hunting falcons.  Add to that the pair of Black Falcons who believe any food is rightfully theirs and are prepared to out-fly anyone to get it, and a fine afternoon’s entertainment is assured.

So, rather than ramble here is a small selection from a few hours work.

Raptor Alley. The Beach Road looking toward the bay. The sharp eyed might even note a Black-shouldered Kite high on the rhs tree
Raptor Alley. The Beach Road looking toward the bay. The sharp eyed might even note a Black-shoudlered Kite high on the rhs tree
Delightful to watch them in the air
Delightful to watch them in the air
Australian Kestrel with an afternoon snack
Australian Kestrel with an afternoon snack
Taking a spell from hunting
Taking a spell from hunting
Another mouse down
Another mouse down
First time I've ever seen a Goshawk just sitting.
First time I’ve ever seen a Goshawk just sitting.
When I grow up I want a nest just like this. Superb Fairy-wren sitting in a disused Magpie Lark's nest
When I grow up I want a nest just like this.
Superb Fairy-wren sitting in a disused Magpie Lark’s nest
Pair of Black-shouldered Kites resting together
Pair of Black-shouldered Kites resting together
These are the bird of my youth, Sitting on a gate post
These are the bird of my youth, Sitting on a gate post
A hard turn into the breeze
A hard turn into the breeze
In bound for a tree rest
In bound for a tree rest
Australian Kestrel, tail preening in the sunshine
Australian Kestrel, tail preening in the sunshine
Black Kite landing. The post is an old sluice to control the waste.
Black Kite landing. The post is an old sluice to control the waste.
Fresh catch
Fresh catch
How tough is this mouse
How tough is this mouth
Female Australian Kestrel
Female Australian Kestrel
A late entry into the field Brolga at sundown
A late entry into the field Brolga at sundown
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The Curious Tale of the Clever Kestrel

Don’t you just love a mystery!  You know where all the pieces sort of come together and  then.  There is always one more thing to learn.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the birds will come up with a new story.

If like me you watch closely then its likely you’ll see something that makes you say, “Well, I’ve never seen that before!”

Such was a sunny morning on Friday.

We were on the Beach Road a the Western Treatment Plant and about halfway along between 29 Mile and the Beach Road boat ramp. Near a crossroad marked on some maps as “Chirnside Road”.

The paddocks here have been growing maize for cattle feed and have recently been harvested.  This off course means the stubble is still in the field and a good chance for the average bright minded Kite, Kestrel, Falcon, Raven, Magpie, Goshawk and others to take advantage of any mice or other tucker, (think rabbits for the big birds), that might be out in the open area.

For the part of the mice, the harvest has obviously left much corn and seed among the stubble.  So with the population being diminished by the birds and plenty of food available for the next generation, the fecundity of the females comes to the rescue and a small explosion of the population erupts.

Which brings more Kites, Kestrels, etc into the area. So to your average alert photographer. (Well at least us, so ignore the alert part.

On just about every vantage point the big birds sit, and wait, and then fight and argue over a single feed.   In the air, the Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites are hard at work tracking the mouse spoor with their ‘UV googles” or whatever the bird equivalent is.

The Black-shouldered Kites in view of the abundance of food are already planning their own expansion of the species. And several are either well advanced in nest construction or perhaps even at work on hatching.   The Kestrels, are simply interested in stocking up on body weight for the long nesting/hatching season later in the year.
So enter, on stage right, our Kestrel.

We had been parked hard up against the fence-line, 1. To keep us clear of the sometimes busy road, and 2. to keep us clear of the sometimes very busy road.

We had to watch as the birds hunted just out of camera range. Swinging across occasionally, but for the most part the far side of the paddock obviously offered the best hunting.

We watched as a female Kestrel, with all the gliding hunting skill of her species sat motionless in the light breeze.  I remembered my early youth and watching for hours these beautiful birds as they worked their way around the edges of wheat paddocks.  In those days they were it seems to me now, in large numbers.

She caught a mouse. Swung over the paddock, not to the busy side, too dangerous to run the gauntlet of Flacons, Black, Whistling Kites and Swamp Harriers and scooted low down toward the fence line near us. Perhaps she had intended the post near the car, it certainly seemed that way from her flight path, but at the last moment, she swung right and landed about two posts down from us.  Cameras out, insert shutter noises here.

After checking out all was clear she mantled down (is down redundant there?), over the mouse and sat still for several minutes.  We waited.  Then for what seemed no good reason, she picked up the mouse, dropped from the fence and swished across the road to the far side fence post.  I had to concede she might not have liked our presence, but we’d made no move on her position so that seemed unlikely.   She sat, and then again mantled (see hedging my bets left off, down).

A few minutes later she stood, and dropped of the fence onto the grass verge and into some muddy area where the cattle had been standing, leaving hoof print holes in the mud, among the grasses.  Then she hopped about, as you would with a mouse in one claw, and then seemed to lose the mouse. At first I thought it must have still been alive and had scampered on her.  Then a few pecks in the grass, and she stood silent for a minute or more.   By now it was obvious she no longer had the mouse.  Gone!

Several more hops in the grass and she flew to the nearest fence post.  Sat, and preened a bit, then in an obvious move, took to the air and with a short look back, was gone back to hunting.

Fascinated, I had to go and have a look where she had landed.  And after a brief look about, there was the mouse. Tucked up tight in one of the deep hoof marks.   She had deliberately placed it so that the overhang of the edge of the hoof mark would cover the mouse from most prying eyes, (think kite, falcon, magpie, raven -competition).

Of course the why and the what are questions that remain unanswered.   Perhaps she was setting aside a snack for later if the hunting quietened down. She had made no attempt to maul the mouse at all.  One thing that I think is like the ‘mapping’ I’ve been talking about with the light Falcon, is she took sometime to work out where to put the mouse and then some time to reexamine the area from the fence and then again to fly over and get a good idea of the location. I know, I might be reading in my answers, but its food for thought.

I’ve seen a female before – for those who’ve been with the blog for a long long time think Elizabeth,- who would take prey that Darcy bought in and stash it in hollows around the nest tree for when he was having a hard day’s hunting. (Not that he ever did, and the young fledglings eventually took great delight in finding the stashes,  much likes kids on easter egg day.

So here is the photo version of that long winded discussion.  Curious actions indeed. But to the Kestrel, all part of a day’s activities. Clever bird

Fire, smoke, an open paddock, simply add birds for action

One part of the family was off to Sydney for a holiday.  So how about we leave our car with you and go to Avalon airport?  Now the cool thing about saying yes to the request of course is that Avalon is but a mere 5 minutes from the WTP.  And well, we’d have to come back that way after all the farewells, and book ins and security checks, and stuff.

So we found ourselves on the Beach Road in the middle of the afternoon on a not too brilliant for photography day.    The folk at the farm had taken the opportunity of the change in the weather to conduct some control burns in some of the bigger fields.    And off course the raptors simply couldn’t resist the chance of fried or roasted or bbq locusts, mice, grasshoppers, lizards and the like.

As we travelled down the Beach Road, the sky was awash with larger birds.  Perhaps as many as 20 Whistling Kites, twice that number of Black Kites, at least two Australian Kestrels, and an assortment of Ravens, several squadrons of Australian Magpie and innumerable Magpie Larks.

From a photography point of view, the light was wrong and the birds too far away, but the old D2xS on the 300mm f/2.8, stepped up to the challenge. So the big birds swept over the still smouldering ground, or made a landing and picked up a morsel or two. Their friends sat on the fence line and the Whistling Kites kept up a constant call.   In the end, we just watched, and enjoyed them enjoying themselves.
A Black Kite became a target for a rather aggressive Whistling Kite and a sky wide battle ensued.   At first the Whistling Kite was much faster, could turn quicker, gain height faster and generally outfly the Black Kite. Quite a number of direct hits from above, below and the side ensued.    In the end, I decided that perhaps the Black was just taking it all and wasn’t really concerned by the output of energy by the Whistling Kite.   It ended by the Black gaining height and just sailing away.  The Whistler settled down for a rest on the fence.

On the other side of the road a Black-shouldered Kite busied itself in finding mice for its evening snack.

We also found a large family of Flame Robins.  The males looking a treat in the sunshine.  But far too far away to do them justice.
As we drove around Lake Borrie on the return home a pair of Cape Barren Geese were feeding in an open area.  Really perturbed by our audacity to encroach on their feeding spot, the male gave me a lecture and wing-waving display.  I apologised and we parted in good company.     Just have to be more careful about sneaking up on him.

With the light finally drifting into greyness, it was considered time for home.

 

A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Two Black Kites.  They are at completely different heights.
Two Black Kites. They are at completely different heights.
Australian Kestrel turning  for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
Australian Kestrel turning for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
One post one Kite
One post one Kite
In times of plenty everyone is friends
In times of plenty everyone is friends
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite.  Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite. Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder.  A mouse.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder. A mouse.
Cape Barren Goose.  He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Cape Barren Goose. He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Late evening light over the You Yangs
Late evening light over the You Yangs

Diary Day #4 Out along the the River Road to Murraydale

Family gig took up much of the morning, so another trip to Goschen was pretty much ruled out.

“Gardener Ed,  (he works the gardens at the Murray Downs Resort), has some birds you should go and see.” So a chat with Ed, and yes its true he does have birds, and yes we would be welcome to go look see, so 11am, on the dot Mr An Onymous and I assembled in the carpark and then followed Ed back to look at his collection.  And a fine find it was too.  An was pretty happy as he managed to score a couple of tail feathers from Red-tailed Cockatoos.

Ed lives out at Woorinen South, and we’d only driven through there the previous day, so now we did the “explorer” thing and drove round to see the Lake, the Football Ground, and the Water supply. Pretty exciting stuff.  Even saw where I’d skinned me knee as a little tacker climbing in an old Malle Pine.

Now this sort of driving may seem a bit out of place and fraught with the possibility of getting lost, but the area was originally blocked off for soldier settler blocks, and so the roads all either run north/south or east/west, so its really just driving on a checkerboard.   We rounded a corner and there in the sky was a Black Kite, first for the day, so pretty  excited we stopped, got out and started to photograph the bird as it leisurely sweep over the crops.  First mistake. Second mistake was doing it just outside the driveway of the local Neighbourhood Watch.  Before we’d managed to get 2 frames exposed, said NW was in the vehicle and coming down the track to see, what  we were doing.  Now I’ve little time for explaining to folk that don’t want to listen that “We’re photographing birds, Mate!” That is NOT, I have discovered the answer to the question of “What the …..##$%% do you think you’re doing, and what .###%%% right do you have to do it here!!!!!&&&&###” 

Now I’ve also been made aware it’s not much point debating the issue of the lack(?) of “Bill of Rights” in Australia, and that the correct lawful response to such demands is,”I believe this to be public land, and as you have not identified yourself as a member of a  constituted law enforcement agency, I am minding my own business.”  Too may verbs and nouns in that sentence for your average NW.  Besides which, NW  carry things like shotguns and work on a different set of rules “Shot first and ask questions afterward“.

So with a quick flourish of cameras, we abandoned the Black Kite and resumed the safety of the car.  NW proceeded slowly, (almost wrote menacingly) out of the driveway and headed in our direction. I slowly, and politely, turned back on the roadway and looked straight ahead as we passed him.  NW went down to the corner, (read above if you are geographically embarrassed at this point)  turned around, and slowly followed us back along the road.  Then after stopping at his gate to be sure we were really leaving the area, turned back into said  driveway.  Mr An and I pondered that at least we’d given him something to do for the morning.

Enough excitement in that area, so we proceeded to cross the Murray Valley Highway, and were now deep into Murraydale.  This area was for the most part still well watered, and the home of a thriving dairy and beef industry.

The roads running east/west eventually run into the Murray River; only 5-10 Kilometres away as the Crow flies. So we tried several of the roads to see if we could find some good views along the river.
First up we found a pair of Australian Kestrels, hard at work trying to move on (I believe) a Brown Falcon.  So it was pretty certain they had young in the area.

We were discussing the merits of Round Hay bales vs Square Hay bales, (You can see immediately what a wonderful travelling companion I have), when a Whistling Kite made an appearance over the tree line. More stopping, but no NW this time, so all was well.   Now some of the tracks don’t run to the river.  They end up in a farmer’s front yard, so while Mr An looked for birds, I tried to keep us from visiting long lost members of the family.   EE’s family had a long association with Murraydale.  The elders of the clan had worked a dairy farm as far back as the 1930s, and several of the latter part of the clan had run as share–farmers out here.  One still had a caravan parked on the riverside on one of the properties.  On the other hand trying to explain, “We’re photographing birds, Mate!, and we are related to…… “, or “Oh, I went to school with your brother Peter ,” didn’t seem to have any more ring of likely success, so I tried to avoid the driveways. Besides, farmers have bigger guns, and dogs with really, really sharp teeth.

We turned on to The River Road, and went past the Abattoir. “Why are we going down here?” quizzically asked.    “For Black Kites’, I replied.  “But there’s hardly likely to be any down here”.  As one black kite flew by the front windscreen, then another lifted over the road, and by the time I’d stopped we had 5 or more Kites circling quietly over the road.  “Oh”.

We eased on down the road to the turn-around area for the stock-trucks, and then climbed up on to the river bank.    Then. Out of the trees on the other side, a White-bellied Sea Eagle threw, gathered speed across the river and went over the treetops above us.  I am pretty convinced it’s done this manoeuvre more than once, as it flew across the paddock, found a thermal, and in seconds was heavenwards.  Taking with it the flotilla of Black Kites.  Again, have to say, not sure they were in pursuit, as it was a no contest, those huge wings just pick up the air.  The grins on both of our faces said it all.  I gained points as bird finder and expedition leader, and Mr An had a new story to tell of Sea Eagles over the inland Murray.

Update***The shots show it in brown plumage and its certainly a juvenile.

Time for a coffee, and after circling a roundabout  of decision making, both figuratively and literally, we were soon reunited with family and I enjoyed a Vienna Coffee and fired up Flickr on the Macbook Air.

Black Kite at Woorinen South
Black Kite at Woorinen South
Pair of Kestrels trying to dislodge an unwelcome visitor.
Pair of Kestrels trying to dislodge an unwelcome visitor.
Pied Butcherbird who gave us a great concert of its carolling.
Pied Butcherbird who gave us a great concert of its carolling.
Whistling Kite. Note the 'double tail'. Perhaps its moulting a new tail.
Whistling Kite. Note the ‘double tail’. Perhaps its moulting a new tail.
Whistling Kite.
Whistling Kite.
Black Kite, one of many
Black Kite, one of many
Rocket Express.  With a staggering turn of speed this White-bellied Sea Eagle swung across the river, gained height, and then picked up a thermal.
Rocket Express. With a staggering turn of speed this White-bellied Sea Eagle swung across the river, gained height, and then picked up a thermal.
White-bellied Sea Eagle and friend.  Not sure it was much of a contest for the  Sea Eagle.  Game over.
White-bellied Sea Eagle and friend. Not sure it was much of a contest for the Sea Eagle. Game over.

Goschen Diary Day #2

My mate, Mr An Onymous and his family had also travelled up for the week and we met up and chatted over a few cold sherbets as to a plan for the following day.

Seeing as there were a few pressing family events that needed attention, and because it was going to be a hot day, we decided an early morning start at  Goschen would be the go.  By 6:30am the car was loaded, with drinks, cameras and bodies.  We set off.  The simplest run, is to follow the sealed roads, but we opted, (well I was driving) to go out past the Airport and then pick up one of the backroads to Goschen.   From yesterday, you’ll recall that we travelled that way often on pushbikes in the sweet savour of youth.

Besides from previous years, we’d had a bit of raptor success out near out mate Steve’s place and nothing ventured…

We had just turned past the airport when I spotted an Australian Kestrel, in the early morning sunshine. At this stage the sunlight was running horizontal with the ground.  “Fishfryer” lighting for the studio buffs.  Hadn’t realised, we parked on the major highway to somewhere, as the amount of cars going by was a bit awkward both from parking and photographing points of view.  Mr An, got busy, while I tried to park the car off the roadway.  No mean feat on a  tiny country road, built for tractors and harvesting toys.

I’d also been ‘clever’ enough to attach a TC1.7 to the 300mm to ‘save’ time, and now was having trouble handholding the 500mm resultant lens.  In the end, either because of boredom with the game, or because it saw prey, the Kestrel departed, and we moved on to Goschen.

Mostly the pictures tell the rest of the story.  A huge flowering gum near the old tennis court played host to a variety of honeyeaters, and we spent quite  a bit of time just enjoying their antics.

Then back on to the main road and a detour to the Little Murray Weir.  Another of my childhood pastimes.  Last year we’d been lucky and got some great shots  of a Sacred Kingfisher on a wire here, and to both our surprises, as we stopped the car, a blue flash went by and there on the wire was.   A Sacred Kingfisher.  How do you account for that bit of co-incidence.

On the way back to the main road, I saw a number of small birds dive into a box-thorn bush, and slowed, then stopped. Look as I might, I couldn’t see any, and Mr An was getting coffeitis by then, until.  Out from the tree behind the bush, rose a beautiful Wedge-tailed Eagle, before I could say, “Did you see the Wedget…..”  He was out of the car and had the first 6 shots off.   It took a circuit round the paddock, located a thermal, and before you could say, “It’s found a thermal’, the black and brown bird had  risen on those wonderful wings to an amazing height.
Suitably impressed we retired for coffee.

Every one gets up early.  Australian Kestrel, female, in the first shafts of morning light.
Every one gets up early. Australian Kestrel, female, in the first shafts of morning light.
Juvenile Black Honeyeater
Juvenile Black Honeyeater
Singing Honeyeater. Another Zorro Bird
Singing Honeyeater.
Another Zorro Bird
Tiny red wattle behind the eye on a White-fronted Honeyeater.  Most limey a nomad to the area.
Tiny red wattle behind the eye on a White-fronted Honeyeater. Most likely a nomad to the area.
A Red-rumped Parrot in flight.
A Red-rumped Parrot in flight.
Mr Hooded Robin. A pleasure to photograph
Mr Hooded Robin. A pleasure to photograph
Long rows of harvested wheat leave interesting patterns. Only a Magpie can work them out.
Long rows of harvested wheat leave interesting patterns. Only a Magpie can work them out.
One year, two year.  Same bird, same wire, same photographer.
One year, two year. Same bird, same wire, same photographer.
Wedge-tailed Eagle looking for a thermal.
Wedge-tailed Eagle looking for a thermal.

Counting at Mt Rothwell

One of the nice new pleasures we get from being in the area is to catch up with the Werribee Wagtails birding group.
They have a number of projects for bird counting and one them is at Mt Rothwell.

So we followed the roads out the back of Little River and met up with the eager bird counters.
Mt Rothwell is near the excellent You Yangs and is a fully enclosed area so there are some heavy duty gates to get through before the serious counting begins.

On this day, however there was a wonderful strong breeze at work, and it was the first really cool day after the heat so the big birds were up in numbers all looking to catchup on their dietary requirements.

The area also has a very strong educational programme and there are some great walking tracks covering the area which is mostly light scrub, trees and some great rolling hills with lots of boulders and rocky outcrops.

So we set off. I got side tracked by a Striated Pardalote, and spent about 10 minutes photographing it, and by the time I’d gotten back on the track. Well, the count and counters had moved on.  Easy enough, just go along the track thought I.  Till I came to a Y in the road.  Always take the ‘right’ one is the advice I’ve worked with over the years.  Not always good advice and in this case dead wrong.  After about 10 minutes I came to an open field and looking along the track not a counter to be seen. Wrong track I thought. So a bit of bush bashing got me across to the ‘right’ left track, and no sign of said counters.
After a bit of scouting about, I found that Arthur had left an “Arrow” of sticks at the next junction, and from there it was walk fast until I caught up.  But, the track swept around to the right, and I figured the track had to sweep back again. Remember its a fenced off area.  Easy said I.  Over the top of the rise in front of me, stand on the top of a rock and they should be visible.  So saying I did.  And.  Yep, there they were way over there.  More scrub work.

Needless to say EE was not to happy with my tardiness, and I think I got a black mark on my name from the walk leader who was getting a bit concerned about having to ‘find’ said missing dude.

No more Pardalotes for me for the rest of the day.

With the strong wind running the raptors, which include, Whistling Kites, Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Little Eagles and Australian Kestrels, were in their element.  Such a great site to see so many soaring birds.  And I didn’t have to get misplaced to see them.

In the afternoon we walked the opposite side of the park and came to a large open field.  “Hmm,” said I, “I’ve been here already once earlier today!”

Hopefully I’ll be allowed back next time.

Diamond Firetail on display.
Diamond Firetail on display.
This is why they are called Diamond "Firetails"
This is why they are called Diamond “Firetails”
A Striated Pardalote. Probably at the last one I'll photograph.
A Striated Pardalote. Probably at the last one I’ll photograph.
Juvenile Red-browed Finch at a small waterhole.
Juvenile Red-browed Finch at a small waterhole.
How to tell the difference between a Tree Martin and two Welcome Swallows.
How to tell the difference between a Tree Martin and two Welcome Swallows.
Over the tree tops at a great rate. This Brown Falcon was no doubt enjoying the strong winds
Over the tree tops at a great rate. This Brown Falcon was no doubt enjoying the strong winds
In coming
In coming
Brown Falcon on active duty
Brown Falcon on active duty

Western Treatment Plant: Timing is everything

There is no doubt about it, timing in the bird photo world is just about everything. You can come back from the Camera Exchange with some of the best goodies on the planet,(and a severe bend in the credit card), and walk about for days and not see much at all.

You can turn up with your old gear, not well prepared and not expecting much, and it suddenly all happens around you.

We, Dieter, Dorothy and I, took an early morning mark down to the Western Treatment Plant on Thursday.
Weather was supposed to be cloudy overcast, and we mostly went for the cups of tea, the chats, the play with the cameras (two of us are breaking in new kit from Camera Exchange), I had to make do with my ‘old’ technology stuff. Feel almost antiquated now.

We strarted out on the river on the road to Ryan’s Swamp.  A female Nankeen was in the dead trees in the creek, and was pretty happy to let us get close enough for some good shots in the early morning light. A good start, but it got better.

As it turned, the sun burnt of the soft mist clouds by mid-morning and we had some decent sunny-breaks.

Down near the outflow at the end of 15 East Road ( I Bet it has a name, I just don’t know it), we were greeted by a small flock, yes, a flock of Black-shouldered Kites at play, or mating, or territorial. Bit hard to work out when they don’t put up signs.

Anyways, these four birds were engaged in aerial combat right over our heads, some times coming alarmingly close.  What a great sight. What a great picture opportunity.  A couple of unfortunate Silver Gulls found themselves the target of this aerial mayhem, and were hopelessly out gunned.

The main feature of the event was birds that locked talons and then spiralled down.  I wonder if the bird who gets to turn head-first wins? while the other has to be unceremoniously twisted backwards?   No one I guess seems to know.
A female sat on a post on the beach, and offered lots of screaming encouragement , and then too joined in the foray.

At that point we would have been satisfied for the day.

We drove back along the track past the Bird-hide by the beach, and found a Brown Falcon (think it be the same bird from a previous post.)  It sat while the team inched up toward it, and then the magic line was crossed and it was airborne.  All of about 5 metres. And again, and again. Good stuff.

I drove the car up to where it was perched on a box-thorn bush on the side on the road, and it didn’t flinch. Needless to say the team got some good pics, while I positioned the car.  We moved on.  About two minutes later it passed by the driver’s side window of the car about 3 metres off the ground and about 5 metres away. It paced us for a few seconds then sped up, and sat on another box-thorn bush.  This time I assembled the camera kit and edged the car up to where it was. Again it held its ground.

So there we were, me and the bird.  It was so close, even a vertical could not get it all in, so I opted for head and shoulders portraits. We are thinking of name it Elvis, as it just didn’t want to leave the building.

It flinched when I started the car, but held its nerve and we drove on leaving it in peace.  A nice day’s work.

A little further on, I spotted a female Nankeen Kestrel on a post near the road, and at first thought she must have damaged a leg as she was having difficulty on the post top, but she flew to the next post, and lo and behold, she was holding a mouse in the foot, and couldn’t get a grip on the post.  Then she settled herself and enjoyed the mouse from one end to the other. Lots of mouse fur flying in the strong breeze.

A couple of over enthusiastic kites who locked talons and twisted about in the air. The noise of the talons scraping was like fingers down a blackboard.
This female Nankeen Kestrel made short work of her mouse-takeaway
This Brown Falcon was hardly camera shy. We think he might be Elvis in disguise.
This Brown Falcon was hardly camera shy. We think he might be Elvis in disguise.

Sunshiny day at WTP

At last the weather gave a bit of relief, and with an onshore breeze, a resonably low tide at around mid-day, it looked like a good time to re-visit the WTP.
So we loaded up the car, picked up Dieter early in the morning and progressed to see what was happening.

We found a Brown Falcon that has mastered the art of hovering.  Mostly Brown Falcons hover like a house-brick, but this one has been able to figure out the technique.  We’ve seen it down around the Kirk Point area before exhibiting its skills.  A Swamp Harrier had made a kill and had been pursued by a number of Ravens, and had dropped the victim. This Brown Falcon had been somewhat in the middle of it all and was pretty certain that a free feed was waiting somewhere in the grass.  It was completely oblivious to our presence and hunted quite close going over Dieter’s head at only a few metres.  It was a great few minutes to watch.

Further along we came across a Spotted Harrier, ‘Languidly- that’s how its described in all the books’ making its way along one of the small channels. It passed quite close to the car and seemed un-preturbed by us.  It has a primary feather that is loose, perhaps its moulting.

A second Spot turned up with what looks like a Eurasian Coot as its lunch.  The coot can weigh upwards of 1 kilo, so it must have been quite an effort to get airborne, and maintain a steady course.

All in all a good day out with the birds and with plenty of Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels on the wing there was always something to be photographing.

Dipped on the Oriental Pratincole, which is always too far away to get great shots anyway.

Hovering Brown Falcon. It skimmed over the waters edge looking for the prey dropped by a Swamp Harrier. It didn’t have any success in the few minutes we watched. Perhaps the mouse or rat escaped for another day.
Spotted Harrier casually making its way along a water channel at WTP
Another Spotted Harrier, this time with takeaway lunch.

Nice to meet old friends

Today, we with a bright sunny day instore, we went to The Pipemakers Park, in Footscray. It was one of the Heart Foundation “Green Walks in the Park”, and it was nice to catch up with a group of walkers and have a bit of a chat as we sauntered about the gardens at the Pipemakers Park, and then down along the Maribyrnong River.
First time we’d been down there, and the bird life is exceptional.  Two Brown Falcons sailing overhead as we got out of the car.  Looked great.  Also spotted several Eastern Shrike Tits among the bushes, and a host of other smaller birds.  Must take the cameras and a lunch and do it justice.  The gardener guy told me they often have a White-bellied Sea Eagle patrol the river, and there is a pair of nesting Eastern Barn Owls in the area as well.

We then had a date down at WTP, and with a spot of lunch at the Highway Lounge on the freeway, were well on the way to a good afternoon.  The first birds we spotted weren’t even in the Permit area, but were on the roadway outside.  Brilliant Flashes of  Red and Brown, feeding against the black tarmac of the road.  A Flame Robin family group of at least three males, and females and a few juveniles kept us out on the roadside for quite awhile.  On the return journey just as sun was setting they were still there and not that fussed by our presence.

It was Pelican day as well, and no matter where we went the big amusing lumps seemed to sail by in groups or small flocks.

On the way out, we went along Beach Road, and a Black-shouldered Kite was spotted in a tree, eager to make a nice shot, I put the car of the side of the road, and was getting ready when to my surprise, and joy and delight, and  amazement, the familiar “Kar, Kar, Kar”, of a hunting Nankeen Kestrel wafted down on the air.  I was out of the car, and had a dozen frames away, before I had even worked out where it was happening.  She, it was a female, took to a tree in a paddock, and I contemplated following, but after a few minutes, another high pitched scream from her, and she took off. There had to be a male somewhere near.   She flew directly overhead, (it really was like old times), and gave him a piece of her mind, before landing in the tree and gave her begging for food call.  He dutifully took to the air to find dinner for her.  She sat on the tree and watched, and occasionally screamed encouragement, until a demented Wagtail couldn’t stand it any longer and chased her of the tree.

It was so nice to hear her call, and to watch the delicate wind-hover of the male.    I hope they stay in the area, as we have only seen Kestrels there once before.

 

A Yellow-Rumped Thornbill, helping itself to the bugs in the spider web. It got pretty tangled in the web, and eventually had shake itself free.

 

Pelican making final adjustments on its landing approach

 

Female Nankeen Kestrel on a hunting trip.