Little Visits: The Wonders of Choughness

We had ventured to Ballart for a family shindig. Normally such events would see us travelling to the family acres, but this was a special time and the shorter trip was appreciated.
Being in Ballarat meant we were both keen to see if we could find the Great Crested Grebes on the lake. Sort of a busman’s holiday.

On the first evening we were to meet with some of the family for an informal dinner and I decided that a quick trip to the lake area before leaving for the main event would be useful in gaining an understanding of the the light around the lake. On pain of death, I left the cameras behind as being late to the aforementioned dinner would release the Wrath of Khan.

So I quicky drove past and gained a lay of the land (or light in the case) as I passed by the area known locally as “Fairyland”, I saw what appeared to be an unusual Raven running across the grass. On second glance I exclaimed, “Chough”. That was enough for me to park iAmGrey and go and have a looksee. Sure enough it was a White-winged Chough.
Now Chough are very much communal birds, a flock is at least 7-8 birds and often more. They need that many birds to make a succesful nesting season. They are also known to abduct birds from other flocks to increase their numbers. They build a communal nest, each one bringing its supply of mud for the process. Once the eggs are laid, they also take it in turns at sitting. If there is an order of who gets to sit I’ve never figured it out, nor I suspect have they. I’ve seen three or four of them hold long meetings around the nest discussing whose turn it is to sit. The same with food. They will all bring back about the same time and like a conveyor belt each move up the branch to provide the young with their tasty morsel. Again arguements seem to be the order of the day, as they try to convince the young that theirs is the prettiest and therefore the most succulent of offerings.

So I expected to find a family of Choughs around the lake. But.

After a few minutes my score was—One Chough.

The following morning saw us both arrived armed with cameras and keen to look for Grebes.
We had the good fortune to bump into a local who seemed to know a bit about the birds in the area and was happy to share with us. After a bit of information about the Kookaburra that couldn’t Kooka call, and that the Grebes had moved out to the reeds further in the lake, I asked about the Chough.

It seems that “Charlie the White-winged Chough” (Charlie as it could be either male or female) had turned up about two years ago and had stayed. The conjecture was that Charlie had a damaged wing and couldn’t fly and that the flock had moved on leaving Charlie to its own devices and fate. Young Choughs are gormless and it might have been separated from the family group and somehow they moved away, or perhaps it was frightened by some event and was unable to locate the family. I’ve seen them caught up in downed branch leaves and need an adult to help free them. Also, Charlie didn’t call out at all while we were there so that adds another level of complexity to the tale.
Charlie might have sulked in the corner for a little bit, but was soon seen moving about in the parklands sharing the space with the Swamphens and Coots and humans and their dogs and small children.

We didn’t see Charlie again that morning but as we had dipped out on the Grebes as well, we were back in the gorgeous evening light to have another attempt. This time, Charlie was in residence and we watched and photographed as it moved about over the picnic areas helping itself to various insects buried among the garden mulch. It must also be noted that while Charlie did not fly it very quickly scampered from one location to another and seemed to take a particular dislike to Swamphens. With much raising of wings and aggressive stance. The swamphens invariably gave it space.

We were domile in a unit across from the lake so the following morning were back again for a brief period. The beauty of the early morning still air was a highlight of the day. Our grandson was going to take us on a tour of several of his favourite birding spots and we took the opportunity to again look for the Grebes. This time we did spot several. Way, way out there among the far flung reeds and so not much photo possibility.
“Look,” cried EE, “the Chough just flew into the tree in the lake.” And

Sure enough there was Charlie, out in a tree in the water, where the Fairyland area enters the lake proper.
So, it seems that flying is a skill that Charlie has. Now, is Charlie good at it? Well… Choughs are not exactley the greatest aeronauts so it would be hard to say if Charlie has diminished skills, but the tree is a fair way out in the water, and as its swimming skills are negligible, flying seems to work.

A couple of visiting lasses were discussing the id of some Little Pied Cormorants, and I offered some ideas, and also showed them the White-winged Chough. A quick check on Uncle Google and they were happy to confirm I was right—It was a White-winged Chough, but where was the white on the wings? Good question. And I explained that white is only shown in flight, and right on cue, Charlie took off flew down the Fairyland waterway and landed about 400m down in the garden area.
White-wings and all.

Choughness is so very complicated , and hard to explain, and I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand these birds, but as long time readers will know, I have a real affinity for these amazing birds and was thrilled to have a new chapter to add to my limited store of knowledge.
Thanks Charlie.

Charlie looks like it is ‘carrying’ a wing, but I think it might just be a Chough thing
The lefthand side wing seems quite normal.
What are you doing out there on a tree in the Lake?
Hopping from one branch to another seems easy enough
There is always time for a spot of feather cleaning
A few missing feathers but that shouldn’t be a bother. It might just be moulting in for a winter season wardrobe
Time to Go
And across the lake and down to the picnic area for a morning snack
Seeming out of character, but confident among the carpark and traffic.
Scampering along the running track with the early morning jogging crowds, Charlie is quite comfortable
While others hurry by, Charlie can stop for a quick refreshment break.
Arriving late at the picnic table.

Swamphens beware. Charlie means business

Ballaratt Grebe

We had to take a trip to Ballaratt on important business, that involved laying down money, (well credit card numbers to be more exact). Was only going to take 5 minutes, and EE suggested that Mr An Onymous might like a trip out for the day.
So let’s see.
Let’s choose the hottest day of the week for the hour or so  journey, and let’s go late morning to be sure we get the maximum benefit from the heat.
EE had allowed us at least a few minutes to ‘cool off by the lake’, and who knows we might find something to photograph.
‘Nuff Said.

Clever as, she also arranged a nice stop over for coffee at Ballan on the way up.  And wouldn’t you know it. How Do these things happen?  There was a fine looking clothing and jewellery store right next to said Coffee Shop, called the “Tin Plate” (here’s a link) for any who might want to follow in the tracks of such adventure. So while Mr A and I lamented over the fact that all the vanilla slice had been sold for the day, and an empty plate where a slice might have been wasn’t going to make up for it, EE was just a shop away shopping.

On to Ballaratt. It does seem somewhat incongruous to leave Melbourne in a pleasant 26C and head off into 37C, to Ballaratt. The place most folk would have on their list of cold places to visit. But there you go. Outside temp was well on the way, as were we.  Gotta love GPS and Sat Nav. Punch in the address and think no more about it.  Found myself on the way into the city, going, “If I was going to Dublin, I wouldn’t be starting from here,” but in the end circuitous or not we arrived.

The original plan had been lunch by the lake, but what with the heat, and that we were just around the corner from Wendouree Village, the lure of an air-conditioned sandwich bar was too much to resist.
But, by the time we’d lunched and chatted, and discussed the merits of Nikon AF focus, and how to use the old ‘Sunny 16 Rule’ of long-gone-bye filum days, the weather had changed to severely overcast, and the said rule was not going to be much help.
At the lakeside it was a distinct murky grey, (but still hot- now the clouds were keeping the heat in), and we’d dropped about 4-5 stops of light.

And most of the usual suspects were there.  We quickly located the pair of Great Crested Grebe, and one immediately took off down the lake to places far from human interference.  The other just lolled about snoozing among the reeds and grasses.

Here’s a selection from its activities.  Played a bit with the mono style as both the day and the surrounds had that sort of mood about them.

And if case anyone is wondering, the temp dropped about 15 degrees on the way home, and we arrived in pleasant cool(ish) conditions.
Enjoy

Is this my best side?

Awesome reflections needed just the right positioning, and it was rewarding to have the Grebe choose the best spots.

It was good to have a cooperative subject that offered so many interesting poses, moods and settings.

In the end, with so many interesting settings, what was going to be a few minutes lasted near an hour

Mighty mono to Selenium tone to set a cool mood

It is so tiring snoozing it makes you yawn.

When they tuck up like this and bob up and down they remind me of a little kid’s toy boat.

Where the Ibis builds its Nest

They had told us of pastures wide and green,
To be sought past the sunset's glow;
Of rifts in the ranges by opal lit ,
And gold 'neath the river's flow.
And thirst and hunger were banished words
When they spoke of that unknown West;
No drought they dreaded, no flood they feared,
Where the pelican builds her nest!
http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/v00016.pdf

Been away to Ballarat for a few days.  “Go the Doggies”, well not that I follow football, but the connection to the story is long and tenuous and involves boredom, so we’ll move right along.

Always good to take a bit of a stroll through the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.  Always amused by the interchange of Botanic and Botanical when used in names of gardens.  The ‘usage’ rules struggle a bit on the cogent side. Still Ballarat for all that has chosen Botanical.  And, well, just sayin’, that’s good enough for me.

In said Gardens, or more particularly, in Lake Wendoruree there are a number of small islands that might have been designed for other things, but have been squatted on by colonies of White Ibis.  Always amusing to see them fly in and out over the township.

I grew up, as a little tacker along the banks of the irrigation district around Swan Hill, and it was an everyday occurrence for the young lads and their dogs to be wandering the irrigation channel banks and see large flocks of these birds at work in the irrigated paddocks around.  Their guttural call, their harmony in flight was always a pleasure to experience.  So much so that we became so accustomed to them that we often took no notice on our ways to one piece of mischief or another—but those indeed are other stories.

When I moved to the city, I was taken aback that city folk saw them as ‘rubbish tip raiders’, ‘ugly, dirty, messy birds’.  Which given their high acclaim in cultures of yore, made me quite sad.  Then I realised that said sity folk had only ever seen them around their garbage dumps.And I wondered, (and still do) whose fault was it for their scavenging.  The birds, or those who dumped the rubbish.

Among my other childhood memories was a poem my Father was want to recite.  “Where the Pelican Builds its (Her) nest.”
It must have been one that he learned as a little bloke in school as he knew it by rote, word-perfect, except for the occasional its/her nest.  It was one of his favourite lines before going to bed at night, as “I’m off to where the Pelican builds her nest”.

Funny watching these lovely birds in action that his words came back so clearly.

 

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