A Day at the Farm

Tis true to say that EE and I haven’t been down to the Western Treatment Plant for quite a number of weeks.  The weather, health things, family events and perhaps a touch of sloth just seems to have gotten in the way.

My photo mate Neil, sent me a note about his last weekend trip, and we decided if the weather opened up a bit, we’d at least drive down 29 Mile Road for a looksee.

So this morning after a couple of Tai Chi class sessions,  we loaded up with lunch, a cuppa or two of Earl of Grey and of course the essential cameras and headed out in the warm sunshine, (and to tell all the story, the rather crisp wind as well).

Before we reached Beach Road junction, we spied some Flame Robins, but they wanted to work far out in a paddock, and we could only get glimpses.

Further on down, and a trio of Black-shouldered Kites were keeping the mice on their toes.

And as we sat with lunch at the first corner on the 29 Mile Road, a Spotted Harrier wafted by making some very nervous Swamphens.  As we entered the T Section area, we were looking for Brolga as Neil had sighted them here at the weekend, but we lucked out.

Next we found a single Flame Robin female that was working around a puddle of water on the roadway.

Looking up, I heard the familiar call of a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and as we looked a Black Falcon swept in from no where and after a little evasion from the Kite, the Falcon secured the prize and took off with the erstwhile and very angry kite in hot pursuit, but to no avail.  The Black is just that good in the air.

As we drove back out, lo, the very Brolga had turned up in the first pond and were busy preening, we shared the last of the Earl of Grey and enjoyed their unconcerned wardrobe adjustments.

So for a first day back at the farm, it was a most enjoyable and profitable time.

The fur flies as the Kite prepares lunch
Fast food
Spotted Harrier at work over Swamphen pool
Australasian Swamphen with impeccable table manners
Golden-headed Cisticola
Female Flame Robin
Black Falcon speeds in on a free lunch
Easy to see why the Kite has no hope of winning this battle
Having lost its mouse, it did at least give the Falcon a parting swoop.
Preening Brolga

A Band of Banded Brothers

Came upon a small band of Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets the other morning.

We had been looking for some locations for subjects for my book on “How to Sneak Up on a Swamp Harrier”. Needless to say the next chapter or two will for the short term be blank pages.

On one pond we happened in the best of traditions on a flock of Banded Stilts, and some companions.

So we settle down for about an hour or so.   While we were enjoying the birds, the sunshine and a cuppa, we were joined for a short while by a hunting party of Black Kite and a Black Falcon. We counted around 25 Black Kites and there were plenty spiralling down from a great height that we didn’t count any more.
Sort of added that sparkle to the day.


Blogging 101 Week 2 Day 4

Impressionist, Pictorialist, opportunistic or just too late.

Yesterday after a spin around the block, I came upon the site Hoof Beats and Foot Prints and today Emily has posted a few shots and a bit of musing on “Impressionistic” results. When sometimes the wrong settings are the right settings.  See Here  A Friends Filters

Which is as it turns out fortuitous as today’s Blogging 101 assignment was to write a post on thoughts that linked from yesterday’s visits. As coindicene goes, I’d put this picture of a Black Falcon in flight up on Flickr.

Impression: Black Falcon at speed

And one of the comments from Peter pointed out that sometimes we do indeed become over emphatic about getting the clinical result.  I follow Ming Thein, and he too from time to time explores out beyond the formal result.

My thoughts on gaining an impressionistic feel or a “pictorial” atmosphere is that its just as difficult to get a great artistic alternative, as it is to make the clinical shot.
Sometimes even more difficult as we have balance, subject movement, shutter speed selection, composition, lighting and exposure.  It’s why it’s easier to stick it into ‘photoshop’ and mess with the controls there.  Or look through the blurry shots destined for the waste bin and rescue one, tart-it up and try and pass it off as really a Strong storytelling impression  of the movement and mood.

Or plan for it!

One of the elements I always think make it work is it approximates what we would have seen had we been standing there.  The motion. That fleeting glimpse of the bird as it passes.

Further pondering lead to really thinking of two possible opportunities.  One is panning with the bird.  At least part of the bird should be sharp, and depending on the shutter speed, the backdrop should be  streaky to milk smooth.

The other is the bird movement.  And again the street smarts would say that part of the subject area should be sharp to highlight for the eye the impression of movement.

Well my Black Falcon doesn’t fall into much of any of that. The ugly truth is that we were simply too late, too late too late.

Had we entered the WTP in our usual way from Paradise Road, we’d have encountered the birds, the harvesting, and the right evening light.  I’d have had a bit of a chance to work out the bird’s movements, where they turn with the tractor, where they perch between flights, and would have set up to get the best from that.   But, we were too late.

The sun was setting as we drove by.  Birds were all over the sky,  Black Kites, Whistling Kites and one lone solitary aerial speedster.
“A Black Kite” she called.  “Yes,” said I, slamming on the brakes and opening the door and grabbing the camera and trying to find the streaking black dot in the gloom.

Oh, 1/50th at ISO 400.  Who am I kidding?

It sped past, dropped onto a branch nearby, and glared at some Black Kites.  Slowly I advanced, knowing it was futile. But. I wanted at least one record shot to show that Black Falcon is in WTP over the summer.

So did it make the waste bin?  It is just a dolled up average shot.  Or does it give an impression of the beauty of this bird of speed.

Over to you.

Another photographer who has struggled and succeeded with the impressionist approach is William Neill  check out his work here.

William Neill

And I’ve included a couple of shots from other days.  Welcome Swallow at high speed wingflap.

Brown Falcon a few weeks back, in about the same sort of light “We might have had!!!!”. And about 2 km from where the harvesting was taking place and about an hour earlier so the light was ‘golden’.

Such powerful direct flight.

Such powerful direct flight.

Might have missed the light, but the old dude can still manage to pan successfully!
Might have missed the light, but the old dude can still manage to pan successfully!
Approach for landing in a resting perch.
Approach for landing in a resting perch.
Now imagine what the light might have been like.
Now imagine what the light might have been like.
Really, my favourite of the unfortunate series. The wonderful milky smooth backdrop is delicious.
Really, my favourite of the unfortunate series. The wonderful milky smooth backdrop is delicious.
They are flying in and picking insects of the flowers. As the light deteriorated as the sun set, I watched the shutter speed disappear.
They are flying in and picking insects of the flowers.
As the light deteriorated as the sun set, I watched the shutter speed disappear.
What might have been. Brown Falcon in that light about a week earlier.
What might have been. Brown Falcon in that light about a week earlier.


No matter what, the fun of experimenting is one of the great challenges and true joys of our medium.

Black Falcon(s) up close and personal

It has been said by some, that, “I’ve lost my bird Karama,’ or more particularly that I’ve used it all up.  And given that I respect the insight of such greater thinkers, then it probably is true.  And no doubt the facts are on their side, most certainly in the case of hunting down the ever elusive White-bellied Sea-Eagle. My mate Lynzwee reckons it more a matter of wearing the incorrect “Bird Repellant”.  He might be right too.

But. That doesn’t stop me so much from going out and trying.  Well at least I rationalise that I can enjoy the fresh air and a well brewed Earl of Grey.

So as the weather turns we found ourselves on The Beach Road at the Treatment Plant.  Rumour had it that some Cattle Egrets were down there. (Truth be told, and don’t spread it around, we too had already seen them in the area, so didn’t go completely blind.)

The cattle have been let in to graze on the recently harvested maize stubble.  I think I talked about this in the “The Curious Tale of the Clever Kestrel”.

When we settled the car in close to the fence to get a good look at the Cattle Egrets, we also noted that said Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kites, Whistling, Black and Brown Goshawk were also working in the area.  Along with an ever increasing number of cars with birdos and photographers pulling up to share the action.

And that is what we all got.  At one stage 20 or more Kites were sitting post by post on the roadside and landing within arms reach of the bird counters in the car.  The photographers were using up lots of memory card space and batteries inbetween bouts of stories,  “Oh, I remember I was backpacking along the Birdsville Track and a Black Kite with a water bottle dropped down and gave me a drink, saved my life.” “Oh, I saw a Budgerigar attack a white morph Black Kite once”, and “Oh, look there’s a Light Morph Juvenile Brown Falcon with a mouse.”,” No, I think by the colouring on the left wing primaries that its a Dark Morph Light Brown Falcon, and what its got is a field mouse, probably one of a litter of 12 or 15.  You often see them, when…”

My eyes glaze over.

Another convoy arrive.  “Have you seen the Bittern, we’re looking for the Bittern, anythingheretosee”,  said while swinging Swavoroskis around nearly knocking me over. “There are some Cattle Egrets,” I volunteered.  “Where!”

“They’d be the big white things over there in the paddock with the cattle,” quoth I.  EE kicked me in the ankle under the car door.  “No Bittern”, Insert Sound of Departing convoy Here.

Fast!  Let me tell you.

It went over my shoulder, and I never even saw it coming.  (Most of the bird discussers never saw it going either), At that rate, and that shape, I got the camera up, grabbed several frames and called “Black Falcon, A pair”.

To which the flurry of cameras, binoculars, smart phone apps and someone still writing things on a field note book all searched the surrounding sky, grass, fence and paddock.
“Oh, look a Black Falcon,” cried one. “A Black Falcon,’ cried another. We’ll ignore the numbers of “Where?” as they outnumber significantly. Another flotilla of Land-cruisers and Subaru Foresters pulled up.  “Oh, look a Black Falcon”, cried one of the new comers.  “We must have frightened it up when we arrived”. (big sigh here).

“There is a pair”, quoth I.

“look look look, there’s a second one,”,  At last!

‘Our’ pair sailed down the Beach Road at fence height putting to flight all the dozing kites on the fence. Something about a black shape at 60kph bearing down on you to awaken your feathers and wing muscles enough to get airborne.

A foolishly lone Little Raven got a right dusting up by both birds as they barrelled across the road.  Mostly I think it was all in fun. They were just out for an afternoon’s entertainment.  A Magpie with some food also got a pretty good chase about, but no damage was done, and Magpie eventually made it off the paddock with its prize.

Then, they streaked back up the paddock, amused perhaps by the photographers, app users or maybe they wanted to admire the emerald green Subi.

No matter how I write it, it was the right place, the right light and the right distance.  All one had to do was point the camera, press the shutter and follow the action.  That is except for those who took a shot, then spent the next 10 seconds ‘Chimping’, you know, hunched up looking at the rear LCD image and going “ooh, ooh, ooh”

Now one Falcon is pretty awesome two, outstanding.   But off course everyone was following the one that had zoomed overhead and was now rattling down the paddock away from us.  As I looked about, (I’ve learned to do that), the second one came ever closer and was soon filling my viewfinder.  In the end, I called “the other one is closer now!”, to which all eyes peering down the little tunnel of the viewfinder had to readjust to the bright light and try to re-position the camera for a second series.

Bored with messing with our minds, (and let’s face it, that didn’t take long), they spun round overhead and headed off across the paddocks. Leaving us with. “Well, its probably a second year bird with a juvenile, … ” “I’ll have to get on birdline and report this.’, and “Let’s go. We are due home for dinner”.   INSERT CAR DOORS SLAMMING HERE


I offered EE another Earl of Grey and we waited for the Cattle Egrets to come back.


Out in the evening sunshine. Red-capped Robin Male

First day of April and the weather just keeps getting better.  Dorothy and I had taken the morning to visit Westgate Park, right near the huge bridge over the Yarra.  It used to be a city dump, and has been reclaimed, and with lots of volunteer work it is being turned into a little wilderness Oasis just a short trip from the CBD.  More power to those who thought it a good idea and all those who worked to bring it back to such great shape.

In the afternoon I needed some retail therapy and on the way back stopped at the Providence Road carpark and met Peter Tompson who is a great contributor to the Victoria Birdline. We have a good chat about the Black Falcons at WTP, and another birdo friend, Richard turned up, and even more discussion ensued.  Richard has a very extensive and annotated bird list going back about 20 years for the area, it even includes sightings from one of the park rangers at the time.

We walked down to the Backpaddock, and found our taxes had been at work, and the old gate had been repaired and now actually closes. Good work team.

Richard went off further down the range, and I did a quick scout about and found a pair of Red-capped Robins in the sunshine. This pair are starting to reclaim their territory. At the moment I haven’t been able to find most of the other pairs.  Hopefully they are still about, just hiding.  No sign of Flame Robins yet, but with the amount of food available everywhere, perhaps they will only pass through this year.

Red-capped Robin Male in his new winter attire. Pretty much full moulted and beginning to become vocal again.

Black Falcon and Brown Falcon Antics

It comes as no surprise that Birdos go out for various reasons. For some it might be to see a new area and see what birds are about, for others a trip to a location to add one more bird to the great bird list. Others enjoy the chance to see birds in their habitat doing bird things. For others it might just be the keeping track of the birds and any environmental changes.  Others go because the birds are there. Some even go to take cameras and record something of what they have seen.

For others, like us, it is even more intangible. We just love to see them, to watch their antics and to enjoy a day out in the wide open spaces.  “A bad day in the bush is better than a good day in the office” or so the bumper sticker goes.

Which leads us to driving down the Beach Road to the Werribee Treatment Plant.

There have been plenty of reports of Black Falcons in the area, but in-spite of trying hard, we hadn’t had any success, and figured while it would be nice, probably not this season.
Till we got to the Beach Road/29 Mile Road junction on Monday, and in the trees in front of us there were two black shapes. Probably didn’t get the car parked right, and we ended up a bit too far away, and I didn’t want to tramp down the road and send them into the air, but I needn’t have worried.  They spent about 10 minutes or so in personal grooming, and then both took to the air, to work their way up and around in an air current off the road. Then they spent about 5 minutes overhead and around us, playing in the breeze.  With a bit of exercise behind them, they both pursued every Raven, Magpie, Pigeon, and any other birds flying by.  The intention didn’t seem to be direct attack, but rather close passes just because they could.

Tiring of this game they hunted on down the tree line becoming the usual black blobs in the distance, then both turned and gained height before plunging down the roadway and racing past at incredible speeds, just where we were standing.

The speed was phenomenal. It would make a Peregrine look up and take notice, and then with a dash of wing tip, they would turn on nothing and repeat the performance up the road again.  This is our first encounter with these birds, and it goes with out saying, we were simply awestruck at the speed and agility.   Satisfied with themselves, they proceeded down the 29 Mile Road and we lost sight of them.

Black Falcon in the early evening breeze. It is gaining height for a sweep down the roadway.

More Black Falcon shots here


Our next encounter in the evening light was a Black-shouldered Kite that had just taken a mouse. Again I missed with parking the car, and ended up about 10 metres too far back. So the shot is a bit from the back of the bird.  But it polished off the mouse in record time and went to look for another.

Black-Shouldered Kite and fresh mouse take-away. Just a snack before sunset.

Our next major find was to engross us both for the best part of half an hour. We had just turned off the main track past the Little River Ford, when we noticed two Brown Falcons about 60 metres further down on the roadway. What ensued next was worthy of David Attenborough.

They began to play chasing games, which led to aerial dogfights and then a game of hide-and-seek among the shrubs and bushes, one would disappear and the other would trundle (how else do you describe the way they walk about) along until both would leap into the air in mock attack.  This lead to  another game which has to be called “king of the castle’.  One took up a position on a high clump of weeds, and then the other would move around trying to gain attack advantage. When it was in position it would crouch down in the same was as a cat or dog might and then leap up and onto the stack, hoping to push the other one off.

It became clear to us that the ‘king’ had the advantage and didn’t  get dethroned.  So after about 10 minutes, the attacker trundled down the road to its own grass heap, and the other bird came down to attack.  It then turned into a game of sneak aerial attack, as it swooped over the head of the ‘king’ causing it to duck and weave.

When we next looked at the time, over 3o minutes had gone by and the light was rapidly fading. Both seemed to have tired of the games and went to hunt.

I will put up a number of images from the sequence on another page in the next day or so. Such an interesting pair.

Brown Falcons in mock attack game.